There is a significant unmet need for therapeutic agents in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Given their clinical importance, prototypical molecules that clearly exhibit both neuroprotective and neuroregenerative activities have been highly sought after. The journey led to the exploitation of neurotrophins, a family of proteins that had extraordinary therapeutic properties in pre-clinical models of neurodegeneration. Although experimentally promising, clinical development of neurotrophins for various neurological indications, such as Alzheimers Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and Parkinsons Disease was met with severe obstacles and setbacks, such as the inability to deliver these large proteins to target population of neurons, instability of the proteins, and non-specific activity. Immunophilins are proteins that act as receptors for immunosuppresant drugs, i.e. FK506 (tacrolimus), cyclosporin A, and rapamycin (sirolimus, Rapamune). Studies indicate immunophilins are expressed 10-100 fold higher in CNS and PNS tissue than in immune tissue. Subsequent studies revealed potent neuroprotective and neuroregenerative properties of immunophilin ligands in both culture and animal models. In contrast to neurotrophins, most immunophilin ligands are highly stable, small molecules that can readily cross the blood-brain barrier and are orally bioavailable. Taken together, these data prompted the development of nonimmunosuppressive immunophilin ligands with potent therapeutic activities, although the potency of select compounds has come into question in more recent studies. This review will examine the experimental evidence supporting the use of immunophilin ligands for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and the current progression of these molecules in clinical trials.
Keywords: alzheimer disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cerebral ischemia, immunophilin ligands, parkinson disease, neurodegeneration, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury
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