The rat beta nerve growth factor (NGF) gene was inserted into a mammalian expression vector and cotransfected with a plasmid conferring resistance to neomycin into mouse 3T3 fibroblasts. From this transfection a stable cell line was selected that contains several hundred copies of the rat NGF gene and produces excess levels of recombinant NGF. Such genetically modified cells were implanted into the rat brain as a probe for in vivo effects of NGF on central nervous system neurons. In a model of the cortical cholinergic deficits in Alzheimer disease, we demonstrate a marked increase in the survival of, and fiber outgrowth from, grafts of fetal basal forebrain cholinergic neurons, as well as stimulation of fiber formation by intact adult intrinsic cholinergic circuits in the cerebral cortex. Adult cholinergic interneurons in intact striatum also sprout vigorously toward implanted fibroblasts. Our results suggest that this model has implications for future treatment of neurodegenerative diseases
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