Most acute and chronic neurodegenerative conditions are accompanied by neuroinflammation; yet the exact nature of the inflammatory processes and whether they modify disease progression is not well understood. In this review, we discuss the key epidemiological, clinical, and experimental evidence implicating inflammatory processes in the progressive degeneration of the dopaminergic (DA) nigrostriatal pathway and their potential contribution to the pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease (PD).
Given that interplay between genetics and environment are likely to contribute to risk for development of idiopathic PD, recent data showing interactions between products of genes linked to heritable PD that function to protect DA neurons against oxidative or proteolytic stress and inflammation pathways will be discussed. Cellular mechanisms activated or enhanced by inflammatory processes that may contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, or apoptosis of dopaminergic (DA) neurons will be reviewed, with special emphasis on tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin-1-beta (IL-1β) signaling pathways.
Epigenetic factors which have the potential to trigger neuroinflammation, including environmental exposures and age-associated chronic inflammatory conditions, will be discussed as possible ‘second-hit’ triggers that may affect disease onset or progression of idiopathic PD. If inflammatory processes have an active role in nigrostriatal pathway degeneration, then evidence should exist to indicate that such processes begin in the early stages of disease and that they contribute to neuronal dysfunction and/or hasten neurodegeneration of the nigrostriatal pathway. Therapeutically, if anti-inflammatory interventions can be shown to rescue nigral DA neurons from degeneration and lower PD risk, then timely use of anti-inflammatory therapies should be investigated further in well-designed clinical trials for their ability to prevent or delay the progressive loss of nigral DA neurons in genetically susceptible populations.