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Diversity matters – heterogeneity of dopaminergic neurons in the ventral mesencephalon and its relation to Parkinson's Disease

Journal of Neurochemistry. 2016 May 21. DOI: 10.1111/jnc.13670. [Epub ahead of print]

Authors/Editors: Vogt Weisenhorn DM, Giesert F, Wurst W
Publication Date: 2016



Dopaminergic neurons in the ventral mesencephalon (= the ventral mesencephalic dopaminergic complex) are known for their role in a multitude of behaviors, including cognition, reward, addiction and voluntary movement. Dysfunctions of these neurons are the underlying cause of various neuropsychiatric disorders, such as depression, addiction and schizophrenia. In addition, Parkinson´s disease (PD), which is the second most common degenerative disease in developed countries, is characterized by the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons, leading to the core motor symptoms of the disease. However, only a subset of dopaminergic neurons in the ventral mesencephalon is highly vulnerable to the disease process. Indeed, research over several decades revealed that the neurons in the ventral mesencephalic dopaminergic complex do not form a homogeneous group with respect to anatomy, physiology, function, molecular identity or vulnerability/dysfunction in different diseases. Here, we review how the concept of dopaminergic neuron diversity, assisted by the advent and application of new technologies, evolved and was refined over time and how it shaped our understanding of PD pathogenesis. Understanding this diversity of neurons in the ventral mesencephalic dopaminergic complex at all levels is imperative for the development of new and more selective drugs for both PD and various other neuropsychiatric diseases.


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