Background: Riluzole is a neuroprotective drug used in the treatment of motor neurone disease. Recent evidence suggests that riluzole can up-regulate the expression and activity of the astrocyte glutamate transporter, GLT-1. Given that regulation of glutamate transport is predicted to be neuroprotective in Parkinson's disease, we tested the effect of riluzole in parkinsonian rats which had received a unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine injection into the median forebrain bundle.
Results: Rats were treated with intraperitoneal riluzole (4 mg/kg or 8 mg/kg), 1 hour before the lesion then once daily for seven days. Riluzole produced a modest but significant attenuation of dopamine neurone degeneration, assessed by suppression of amphetamine-induced rotations, preservation of tyrosine hydroxylase positive neuronal cell bodies in the substantia nigra pars compacta and attenuation of striatal tyrosine hydroxylase protein loss. Seven days after 6-hydroxydopamine lesion, reactive astrocytosis was observed in the striatum, as determined by increases in expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein, however the glutamate transporter, GLT-1, which is also expressed in astrocytes was not regulated by the lesion.
Conclusions: The results confirm that riluzole is a neuroprotective agent in a rodent model of parkinson's disease. Riluzole administration did not regulate GLT-1 levels but significantly reduced GFAP levels, in the lesioned striatum. Riluzole suppression of reactive astrocytosis is an intriguing finding which might contribute to the neuroprotective effects of this drug.