Neurodegenerative diseases with distinct genetic etiologies and pathological phenotypes appear to share common mechanisms of neuronal cellular dysfunction, including excitotoxicity, calcium dysregulation, oxidative damage, ER stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. Glial cells, including microglia and astrocytes, play an increasingly recognized role in both the promotion and prevention of neurodegeneration. Sigma receptors, particularly the sigma-1 receptor subtype, which are expressed in both neurons and glia of multiple regions within the central nervous system, are a unique class of intracellular proteins that can modulate many biological mechanisms associated with neurodegeneration. These receptors therefore represent compelling putative targets for pharmacologically treating neurodegenerative disorders. In this review, we provide an overview of the biological mechanisms frequently associated with neurodegeneration, and discuss how sigma-1 receptors may alter these mechanisms to preserve or restore neuronal function. In addition, we speculate on their therapeutic potential in the treatment of various neurodegenerative disorders.
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