Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) is the most potent neuroprotective agent tested in cellular and animal models of Parkinson's disease (PD). However, CNS delivery of GDNF is restricted by the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Using total body irradiation as transplant preconditioning, we previously reported that hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation (HSCT)-based macrophage-mediated gene therapy could deliver GDNF to the brain to prevent degeneration of nigrostriatal dopamine (DA) neurons in an acute murine neurotoxicity model. Here, we validate this therapeutic approach in a chronic progressive PD model - the MitoPark mouse, with head shielding to avoid inducing neuroinflammation and compromising BBB integrity. Bone marrow HSCs were transduced ex vivo with a lentiviral vector expressing macrophage promoter-driven GDNF and transplanted into MitoPark mice exhibiting well developed PD-like impairments. Transgene-expressing macrophages infiltrated the midbrains of MitoPark mice, but not normal littermates, and delivered GDNF locally. Macrophage GDNF delivery markedly improved both motor and non-motor symptoms, and dramatically mitigated the loss of both DA neurons in the substantia nigra and tyrosine hydroxylase-positive axonal terminals in the striatum. Our data support further development of this HSCT-based macrophage-mediated GDNF delivery approach in order to address the unmet need for a disease-modifying therapy for PD.
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