Axonal Tract Reconstruction Using a Tissue-Engineered Nigrostriatal Pathway in a Rat Model of Parkinson’s Disease

Laura A. Struzyna, Kevin D. Browne, Justin C. Burrell, Wisberty J.Gordián Vélez, Kathryn L. Wofford, Hilton M. Kaplan, N. Sanjeeva Murthy, H. Isaac Chen, John E. Duda, Rodrigo A. España, D. Kacy Cullen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects 1–2% of people over 65, causing significant morbidity across a progressive disease course. The classic PD motor deficits are caused by the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc), resulting in the loss of their long-distance axonal projections that modulate striatal output. While contemporary treatments temporarily alleviate symptoms of this disconnection, there is no approach able to replace the nigrostriatal pathway. We applied microtissue engineering techniques to create a living, implantable tissue-engineered nigrostriatal pathway (TE-NSP) that mimics the architecture and function of the native pathway. TE-NSPs comprise a discrete population of dopaminergic neurons extending long, bundled axonal tracts within the lumen of hydrogel micro-columns. Neurons were isolated from the ventral mesencephalon of transgenic rats selectively expressing the green fluorescent protein in dopaminergic neurons with subsequent fluorescent-activated cell sorting to enrich a population to 60% purity. The lumen extracellular matrix and growth factors were varied to optimize cytoarchitecture and neurite length, while immunocytochemistry and fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) revealed that TE-NSP axons released dopamine and integrated with striatal neurons in vitro. Finally, TE-NSPs were implanted to span the nigrostriatal pathway in a rat PD model with a unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine SNpc lesion. Immunohistochemistry and FSCV established that transplanted TE-NSPs survived, maintained their axonal tract projections, extended dopaminergic neurites into host tissue, and released dopamine in the striatum. This work showed proof of concept that TE-NSPs can reconstruct the nigrostriatal pathway, providing motivation for future studies evaluating potential functional benefits and long-term durability of this strategy. This pathway reconstruction strategy may ultimately replace lost neuroarchitecture and alleviate the cause of motor symptoms for PD patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13985
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


  • Parkinson’s disease
  • dopamine
  • neurons
  • nigrostriatal pathway
  • regenerative medicine
  • tissue engineering


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