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Homage to Rita Levi-Montalcini, the queen of modern neuroscience


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The first cell growth factor, nerve growth factor (NGF), was discovered by Rita Levi-Montalcini (RLM) in the early 1950s. Originally identified as neurite outgrowth-stimulating factor, later studies revealed that non-neuronal cells, including immune cells, endothelial cells, cardiomyocytes, pancreatic beta cells, prostate epithelial and adipose tissue cells, were also targets for and/or sources of NGF. Nerve growth factor is well recognised as mediating multiple biological phenomena, ranging from the neurotrophic through immunotrophic and epitheliotrophic to metabotrophic effects. Consequently, NGF and other members of the neurotrophin family are implicated in the pathogenesis of a large spectrum of neuronal and non-neuronal diseases, ranging from Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases to atherosclerosis and cardiometabolic disorders. Recent studies have demonstrated the therapeutic potentials of NGF in these conditions, including ocular and cutaneous diseases. NGF TrkA receptor antagonists emerged as novel drugs for pain, prostate and breast cancer, melanoma and urinary bladder syndromes. Here, we briefly describe the ‘unpredictable’ ideogenesis of the discovery of NGF, a eureka in the neuroscience.