Nontropic actions of neurotrophins: Subcortical nerve growth factor gene delivery reverses age-related degeneration of primate cortical cholinergic innervation

J. M. Conner, M. A. Darracq, Jeffrey A Roberts, M. H. Tuszynski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

107 Scopus citations


Normal aging is associated with a significant reduction in cognitive function across primate species. However, the structural and molecular basis for this age-related decline in neural function has yet to be defined clearly. Extensive cell loss does not occur as a consequence of normal aging in human and nonhuman primate species. More recent studies have demonstrated significant reductions in functional neuronal markers in subcortical brain regions in primates as a consequence of aging, including dopaminergic and cholinergic systems, although corresponding losses in cortical innervation from these neurons have not been investigated. In the present study, we report that aging is associated with a significant 25% reduction in cortical innervation by cholinergic systems in rhesus monkeys (P < 0.001). Further, these age-related reductions are ameliorated by cellular delivery of human nerve growth factor to cholinergic somata in the basal forebrain, restoring levels of cholinergic innervation in the cortex to those of young monkeys (P = 0.89). Thus, (i) aging is associated with a significant reduction in cortical cholinergic innervation; (ii) this reduction is reversible by growth-factor delivery; and (iii) growth factors can remodel axonal terminal fields at a distance, representing a nontropic action of growth factors in modulating adult neuronal structure and function (i.e., administration of growth factors to cholinergic somata significantly increases axon density in terminal fields). These findings are relevant to potential clinical uses of growth factors to treat neurological disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1941-1946
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 13 2001



  • Aging
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cholinergic systems
  • Gene therapy
  • Plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General

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