Forelimb akinesia in the rat Parkinson model: differential effects of dopamine agonists and nigral transplants as assessed by a new stepping test

Author(s): Olsson M,Nikkhah G, Bentlage C, Björklund A


Methods for the assessment of akinesia in the unilateral rat Parkinson model have so far been lacking. The experiments reported here evaluate the usefulness of a new "stepping test" to monitor forelimb akinesia in rats with unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) lesions of the mesencephalic dopamine (DA) system, and to assess the ability of DA-receptor agonists and fetal DA neuron transplants to reverse these deficits. The 6-OHDA lesion induced marked and long-lasting impairments in the initiation of stepping movements with the contralateral paw. Systemic injections of low doses (chosen to be subthreshold for induction of rotation) of the mixed D1 and D2 receptor agonist apomorphine, the D1-selective agonist SKF 38393, and to a lesser extent also the D2-selective agonist quinpirole were effective in reversing these deficits. Similar effects was seen after a subrotational dose of L-dopa, whereas amphetamine had no effect. Fetal nigral transplants, implanted as multiple deposits in the ipsilateral caudate-putamen and substantia nigra, restored initiation of stepping to a similar degree as the DA agonists. Nigral grafts placed in substantia nigra alone were also effective, although the improvement was less pronounced. Apomorphine, at a dose effective in the lesion-only animals, had no additive effect in the grafted rats, whereas amphetamine appeared to further improve stepping in the rats with intranigral transplants. Identical experiments were performed on skilled forelimb use in the so-called staircase test. Interestingly, neither the DA agonist drugs nor the nigral transplants had any effects on the lesion induced deficits in this more complex task. The results show that forelimb stepping is a highly useful test to monitor lesion-/and transplant-induced changes in forelimb akinesia, a behavioral parameter that may be analogous to limb akinesia and gait problems seen in patients with Parkinson's disease.

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