Neural stem cell therapy for neurodegenerative disorders: The role of neurotrophic support

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Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease currently affect tens of millions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, as the world's population ages, the incidence of many of these diseases will continue to rise and is expected to more than double by 2050. Despite significant research and a growing understanding of disease pathogenesis, only a handful of therapies are currently available and all of them provide only transient benefits. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop novel disease-modifying therapies to prevent the development or slow the progression of these debilitating disorders. A growing number of pre-clinical studies have suggested that transplantation of neural stem cells (NSCs) could offer a promising new therapeutic approach for neurodegeneration. While much of the initial excitement about this strategy focused on the use of NSCs to replace degenerating neurons, more recent studies have implicated NSC-mediated changes in neurotrophins as a major mechanism of therapeutic efficacy. In this mini-review we will discuss recent work that examines the ability of NSCs to provide trophic support to disease-effected neuronal populations and synapses in models of neurodegeneration. We will then also discuss some of key challenges that remain before NSC-based therapies for neurodegenerative diseases can be translated toward potential clinical testing.

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