Parkinson's disease (PD) leads to activation of microglia and reactive astrogliosis in the brain areas affected by the disease. In particular, a rather prominent gliosis is observed in the substantia nigra (SN), which contains the cell bodies of neurones forming the nigrostriatal pathway. Importantly, the SN neurones are particularly vulnerable to attack by activated microglia; this observation initiated the hypothesis of microglia-mediated neurodegeneration and cell death as instrumental for PD pathogenesis. The changes in astroglia are less pronounced, although the degree of dopaminergic neurone death is directly related to the density of glial cells: the neurones located in areas thinly populated by astrocytes die faster. Very similar changes were observed in experimental models of PD.
Most likely the glial reaction in PD is of a secondary nature: it is rather unlikely that malfunction of glia can be regarded as a cause for selective death of dopamin-ergic neurones. Nonetheless, the gliosis triggered by initial neurodegeneration can be significantly involved in progression of the disease.
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