Dendritic regression of striatal spiny projection neurons (SPNs) is a pathological hallmark of Parkinson's disease (PD). Here we investigate how chronic dopamine denervation and dopamine replacement with L-DOPA affect the morphology and physiology of direct pathway SPNs (dSPNS) in the rat striatum. We used a lentiviral vector optimized for retrograde labeling (FuG-B-GFP) to identify dSPNs in rats with 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) lesions. Changes in morphology and physiology of dSPNs were assessed through a combination of patch-clamp recordings and two photon microscopy. The 6-OHDA lesion caused a significant reduction in dSPN dendritic complexity. Following chronic L-DOPA treatment, dSPNs segregated into two equal-sized clusters. One group (here called "cluster-1"), showed sustained dendritic atrophy and a partially normalized electrophysiological phenotype. The other one ("cluster-2") exhibited dendritic regrowth and a strong reduction of intrinsic excitability. Interestingly, FosB/ΔFosB induction by L-DOPA treatment occurred preferentially in cluster-2 dSPNs. Our study demonstrates the feasibility of retrograde FuG-B-GFP labeling to study dSPNs in the rat and reveals, for the first time, that a subgroup of dSPNs shows dendritic sprouting in response to chronic L-DOPA treatment. Investigating the mechanisms and significance of this response will greatly improve our understanding of the adaptations induced by dopamine replacement therapy in PD.
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