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Nerve growth factor: from the early discoveries to the potential clinical use

Luigi Aloe1, Maria Luisa Rocco1, Patrizia Bianchi1 and Luigi Manni2*

Author Affiliations

1 Cellular Biology and Neurobiology Institute, CNR, via del Fosso di Fiorano 64, 00143, Rome, Italy

2 Institute of Translational Pharmacology, National Research Council (CNR), via Fosso del Cavaliere 100, 00136, Rome, Italy

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Journal of Translational Medicine 2012, 10:239  doi:10.1186/1479-5876-10-239

Published: 29 November 2012


The physiological role of the neurotrophin nerve growth factor (NGF) has been characterized, since its discovery in the 1950s, first in the sensory and autonomic nervous system, then in central nervous, endocrine and immune systems. NGF plays its trophic role both during development and in adulthood, ensuring the maintenance of phenotypic and functional characteristic of several populations of neurons as well as immune cells. From a translational standpoint, the action of NGF on cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain and on sensory neurons in dorsal root ganglia first gained researcher’s attention, in view of possible clinical use in Alzheimer’s disease patients and in peripheral neuropathies respectively. The translational and clinical research on NGF have, since then, enlarged the spectrum of diseases that could benefit from NGF treatment, at the same time highlighting possible limitations in the use of the neurotrophin as a drug. In this review we give a comprehensive account for almost all of the clinical trials attempted until now by using NGF. A perspective on future development for translational research on NGF is also discussed, in view of recent proposals for innovative delivery strategies and/or for additional pathologies to be treated, such as ocular and skin diseases, gliomas, traumatic brain injuries, vascular and immune diseases.

Nerve growth factor; Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; Peripheral neuropathies; Skin ulcers; Neurotrophic keratitis; Glaucoma; Hypoxic-ischemic brain injury; Optic glioma