Animal models of Parkinson's disease (PD) have proved highly effective in the discovery of novel treatments for motor symptoms of PD and in the search for clues to the underlying cause of the illness. Models based on specific pathogenic mechanisms may subsequently lead to the development of neuroprotective agents for PD that stop or slow disease progression. The array of available rodent models is large and ranges from acute pharmacological models, such as the reserpine- or haloperidol-treated rats that display one or more parkinsonian signs, to models exhibiting destruction of the dopaminergic nigro-striatal pathway, such as the classical 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) rat and 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) mouse models. All of these have provided test beds in which new molecules for treating the motor symptoms of PD can be assessed. In addition, the emergence of abnormal involuntary movements (AIMs) with repeated treatment of 6-OHDA-lesioned rats with L-DOPA has allowed for examination of the mechanisms responsible for treatment-related dyskinesia in PD, and the detection of molecules able to prevent or reverse their appearance. Other toxin-based models of nigro-striatal tract degeneration include the systemic administration of the pesticides rotenone and paraquat, but whilst providing clues to disease pathogenesis, these are not so commonly used for drug development. The MPTP-treated primate model of PD, which closely mimics the clinical features of PD and in which all currently used anti-parkinsonian medications have been shown to be effective, is undoubtedly the most clinically-relevant of all available models. The MPTP-treated primate develops clear dyskinesia when repeatedly exposed to L-DOPA, and these parkinsonian animals have shown responses to novel dopaminergic agents that are highly predictive of their effect in man. Whether non-dopaminergic drugs show the same degree of predictability of response is a matter of debate. As our understanding of the pathogenesis of PD has improved, so new rodent models produced by agents mimicking these mechanisms, including proteasome inhibitors such as PSI, lactacystin and epoximycin or inflammogens like lipopolysaccharide (LPS) have been developed. A further generation of models aimed at mimicking the genetic causes of PD has also sprung up. Whilst these newer models have provided further clues to the disease pathology, they have so far been less commonly used for drug development. There is little doubt that the availability of experimental animal models of PD has dramatically altered dopaminergic drug treatment of the illness and the prevention and reversal of drug-related side effects that emerge with disease progression and chronic medication. However, so far, we have made little progress in moving into other pharmacological areas for the treatment of PD, and we have not developed models that reflect the progressive nature of the illness and its complexity in terms of the extent of pathology and biochemical change. Only when this occurs are we likely to make progress in developing agents to stop or slow the disease progression. The overarching question that draws all of these models together in the quest for better drug treatments for PD is how well do they recapitulate the human condition and how predictive are they of successful translation of drugs into the clinic? This article aims to clarify the current position and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of available models.
LINKED ARTICLES This article is part of a themed issue on Translational Neuropharmacology. To view the other articles in this issue visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2011.164.issue-4