Behavioral context improves optogenetic stimulation of transplanted dopaminergic cells in unilateral 6-OHDA rats

Kevin A. Anderson, Bailey J. Whitehead, Eric D. Petersen, Madison R. Kemme, Anna Wedster, Ute Hochgeschwender, Michael I. Sandstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stem cell therapy has long been a popular method of treatment for Parkinson's disease currently being researched in both preclinical and clinical settings. While early clinical results are based upon fetal tissue transplants rather than stem cell transplants, the lack of successful integration in some patients and gradual loss of effect in others suggests a more robust protocol is needed. We propose a two-front approach, one where transplants are directly stimulated in coordination with host activity elicited by behavioral tasks, which we refer to as behavioral context. After a pilot with unilateral 6-OHDA rats transplanted with dopaminergic cells differentiated from mesenchymal stem cells that were optogenetically stimulated during a swim task, we discovered that early stimulation predicted lasting reduction of motor deficits, even in the absence of later stimulation. This led to a follow-up with n = 21 rats split into three groups: one stimulated while performing a swim task (Stim-Swim; St-Sw), one not stimulated while swimming (NoStim-Swim; NSt-Sw), and one stimulated while stationary in a bowl (Stim-NoSwim; St-NSw). After initial stimulation (or lack thereof), all rats were retested two and seven days later with the swim task in the absence of stimulation. The St-Sw group gradually achieved and maintained symmetrical limb use, whereas the NSt-Sw group showed persistent asymmetry and the St-NSw group showed mixed results. This supports the notion that stem cell therapy should integrate targeted stimulation of the transplant with behavioral stimulation of the host tissue to encourage proper functional integration of the graft.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114279
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Mar 12 2023


  • 6-OHDA
  • Behavioral context
  • Luminopsins
  • Stem cell therapy
  • Swim task
  • Transplant integration


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