The concept of cell replacement to compensate for cell loss and restore functionality has entered several disease entities including neurodegenerative disorders. Recent clinical studies have shown that transplantation of fetal dopaminergic (DA) cells into the brain of Parkinson's disease (PD) patients can reduce disease-associated motor deficits. However, the use of fetal tissue is associated with practical and ethical problems including low efficiency, variability in the clinical outcome and controversy regarding the use of fetuses as donor. An alternative cell resource could be embryonic stem (ES) cells, which can be cultivated in unlimited amounts and which have the potential to differentiate into mature DA cells. Several differentiation protocols have been developed, and some progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms underlying DA specification in ES cell development, but the "holy grail" in this paradigm, which is the production of sufficient amounts of the "right" therapeutic DA cell, has not yet been accomplished. To achieve this goal, several criteria on the transplanted DA cells need to be fulfilled, mainly addressing cell survival, accurate integration in the brain circuitry, normal function, no tumor formation, and no immunogenicity. Here, we summarize the current state of ES cell-derived DA neurogenesis and discuss the aspects involved in generating an optimal cell source for cell replacement in PD. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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