Long-Term, Targeted Delivery of GDNF from Encapsulated Cells Is Neuroprotective and Reduces Seizures in the Pilocarpine Model of Epilepsy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Neurotrophic factors are candidates for treating epilepsy, but their development has been hampered by difficulties in achieving stable and targeted delivery of efficacious concentrations within the desired brain region. We have developed an encapsulated cell technology that overcomes these obstacles by providing a targeted, continuous, de novo synthesized source of high levels of neurotrophic molecules from human clonal ARPE-19 cells encapsulated into hollow fiber membranes. Here we illustrate the potential of this approach for delivering glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) directly to the hippocampus of epileptic rats. In vivo studies demonstrated that bilateral intrahippocampal implants continued to secrete GDNF that produced high hippocampal GDNF tissue levels in a long-term manner. Identical implants robustly reduced seizure frequency in the pilocarpine model. Seizures were reduced rapidly, and this effect increased in magnitude over 3 months, ultimately leading to a reduction of seizures by 93%. This effect persisted even after device removal, suggesting potential disease-modifying benefits. Importantly, seizure reduction was associated with normalized changes in anxiety and improved cognitive performance. Immunohistochemical analyses revealed that the neurological benefits of GDNF were associated with the normalization of anatomical alterations accompanying chronic epilepsy, including hippocampal atrophy, cell degeneration, loss of parvalbumin-positive interneurons, and abnormal neurogenesis. These effects were associated with the activation of GDNF receptors. All in all, these results support the concept that the implantation of encapsulated GDNF-secreting cells can deliver GDNF in a sustained, targeted, and efficacious manner, paving the way for continuing preclinical evaluation and eventual clinical translation of this approach for epilepsy.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions, affecting millions of individuals of all ages. These patients experience debilitating seizures that frequently increase over time and can associate with significant cognitive decline and psychiatric disorders that are generally poorly controlled by pharmacotherapy. We have developed a clinically validated, implantable cell encapsulation system that delivers high and consistent levels of GDNF directly to the brain. In epileptic animals, this system produced a progressive and permanent reduction (>90%) in seizure frequency. These benefits were accompanied by improvements in cognitive and anxiolytic behavior and the normalization of changes in CNS anatomy that underlie chronic epilepsy. Together, these data suggest a novel means of tackling the frequently intractable neurological consequences of this devastating disorder.


  • Giovanna Paolone
  • Chiara Falcicchia
  • Francesca Lovisari
  • Merab Kokaia
  • William J. Bell
  • Tracie Fradet
  • Mario Barbieri
  • Lars U. Wahlberg
  • Dwaine F. Emerich
  • Michele Simonato
External organisations
  • University of Ferrara
  • Vita-Salute San Raffaele University
  • Gloriana Therapeutics, Inc
  • Technopole of Ferrara
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Neurology
  • Pharmaceutical Sciences


  • cell therapy, epilepsy comorbidity, GDNF, neurodegeneration, neuroprotection, temporal lobe epilepsy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2144-2156
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch