Topical delivery of nerve growth factor for treatment of ocular and brain disorders

Daniela Di Giuda, Maria Lucia Calcagni, Antonio Chiaretti, Gemma Eftimiadi, Luigi Manni, Marzia Soligo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Neurotrophins are a family of proteins that support neuronal proliferation, survival, and differentiation in the central and peripheral nervous systems, and are regulators of neuronal plasticity. Nerve growth factor is one of the best-described neurotrophins and has advanced to clinical trials for treatment of ocular and brain diseases due to its trophic and regenerative properties. Prior trials over the past few decades have produced conflicting results, which have principally been ascribed to adverse effects of systemic nerve growth factor administration, together with poor penetrance of the blood-brain barrier that impairs drug delivery. Contrastingly, recent studies have revealed that topical ocular and intranasal nerve growth factor administration are safe and effective, suggesting that topical nerve growth factor delivery is a potential alternative to both systemic and invasive intracerebral delivery. The therapeutic effects of local nerve growth factor delivery have been extensively investigated for different ophthalmic diseases, including neurotrophic keratitis, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, and dry eye disease. Further, promising pharmacologic effects were reported in an optic glioma model, which indicated that topically administered nerve growth factor diffused far beyond where it was topically applied. These findings support the therapeutic potential of delivering topical nerve growth factor preparations intranasally for acquired and degenerative brain disorders. Preliminary clinical findings in both traumatic and non-traumatic acquired brain injuries are encouraging, especially in pediatric patients, and clinical trials are ongoing. The present review will focus on the therapeutic effects of both ocular and intranasal nerve growth factor delivery for diseases of the brain and eye.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1740-1750
Number of pages11
JournalNeural Regeneration Research
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • eye drops
  • glioma
  • group B streptococcus meningitis
  • traumatic brain injury
  • nerve growth factor
  • neurotrophic keratitis
  • proNGF
  • stroke
  • intranasal delivery


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