Parkinson's disease (PD) is second only to Alzheimer's disease as the most common devastating human neurodegenerative disorder. Despite intense investigation, no interdictive therapy is available for PD. We investigated whether simvastatin, a Food and Drug Administration-approved cholesterol-lowering drug, could protect against nigrostriatal degeneration after 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) intoxication to model PD in mice. First, MPP+ induced the activation of p21ras and nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) in mouse microglial cells. Inhibition of MPPκ-induced activation of NF-κB by Δp21ras, a dominant-negative mutant of p21ras, supported the involvement of p21ras in MPP+-induced microglial activation of NF-κB. Interestingly, simvastatin attenuated activation of both p21 ras and NF-κB in MPP+-stimulated microglial cells. Consistently, we found a very rapid activation of p21ras in vivo in the substantia nigra pars compacta of MPTP-intoxicated mice. However, after oral administration, simvastatin entered into the nigra, reduced nigral activation of p21ras, attenuated nigral activation of NF-κB, inhibited nigral expression of proinflammatory molecules, and suppressed nigral activation of glial cells. These findings paralleled dopaminergic neuronal protection, normalized striatal neurotransmitters, and improved motor functions in MPTP-intoxicated mice. Similarly, pravastatin, another cholesterol-lowering drug, suppressed microglial inflammatory responses and protected dopaminergic neurons in MPTP-intoxicated mice, but at levels less than simvastatin. Furthermore, both the statins administered 2 d after initiation of the disease were still capable of inhibiting the demise of dopaminergic neurons and concomitant loss of neurotransmitters, suggesting that statins are capable of slowing down the progression of neuronal loss in the MPTP mouse model. Therefore, we conclude that statins may be of therapeutic benefit for PD patients.
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