The blood-brain barrier (BBB) fulfills an essential role by restricting the entry of potentially neurotoxic chemicals into brain tissue. The downside of this protective function is that entry of therapeutic molecules into the brain may also be severely restricted; delivering adequate amounts of drugs is one of the biggest challenges in treating many brain diseases.
L-Dopa, used to treat Parkinson’s Disease, is transported into the brain using a carrier system (LAT 1) which normally transports large neutral amino acids. L-Dopa is close enough in structure to one of the endogenous substrates, phenylalanine, to gain entry using this transporter, but the constraints in terms of size and shape on the transported molecule mean that opportunities for such carrier-mediated transport are very limited.
Now Armagen Technologies has announced funding by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to develop a receptor-mediated system to deliver a neurotrophin into the brain. Receptor-mediated transport mechanisms involve attaching the drug molecule to a protein recognized by cell surface receptors and triggering an energy-dependant transcytosis. In this case, the neurotrophin, which protects the part of the brain that degenerates in Parkinson’s Disease, is fused to a monoclonal antibody which is able to cross the blood brain barrier and so deliver the neurotrophin into the brain tissue.
Receptor-mediated transport mechanisms offer greater flexibility in terms of the size and shape of drug molecules that can be transported, and are likely to be more widely applicable than carrier-mediated systems.