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Parkinson’s Disease Brain Science
Parkinson’s disease results from a lack of dopamine in the brain. Parkinson’s disease destroys a part of the brain stem known as the substantia nigra. Over time, dopamine-producing nerve cells in this area die, and the resulting decrease in dopamine levels leads to tremors, rigidity, and difficulty with motor skills. Researchers are trying to find ways to prevent or reverse the damage. Their work is coming at the problem from many different angles; areas of current research include:
- Inflammatory reactions. Any damage in the brain triggers a flood of inflammatory chemicals to repel the intruder. Chronic inflammation kills off neurons and allows a rogue protein to accumulate in the neurons. Deposits of this protein, called “Lewy bodies,” disrupt thinking and behavior and are a factor in Parkinson’s-related dementia.
- Gut microbiome. Researchers now suspect that the earliest stages of Parkinson’s disease occur in the gastrointestinal tract. Lewy bodies that accumulate in the brain are also found in the gastrointestinal nervous system. Beneficial bacteria and other gut microbes, if they can be identified, could potentially open new avenues for treatment.
- Immune response. The immune system is responsible for fighting infections in the body, but sometimes immune-system responses go wrong, causing the body to attack its own cells. Some scientists suspect that abnormal proteins may trigger the immune system to destroy dopamine-rich neurons in the brain.
- Gene therapy. No gene therapy has yet received FDA approval for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, although research is ongoing. This research could result in personalized medicine and targeted therapies to treat the specific mechanism of Parkinson’s disease in individual patients.
- Stem cells. Early-stage clinical trials involving stem cell-derived therapies are driving pioneering research. “Pluripotent” stem cells — grown from the patient’s own skin — can generate into any cell type in the body. The most promising approach to reverse Parkinson’s disease involves using these cells to replace the dopamine-producing neurons that have been lost.
- Pharmaceutical Research. The new science of proteins within cells—called proteomics—is driving pioneering research into targeted medications. Researchers hope to develop drugs that target specific molecules at the cellular level.
Gregory Michael Pontone, MD, M.H.S.
After completing a medicine internship and residency training in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Pontone completed a two-year fellowship in geriatric…Read More…
“Anxiety disorders are common in Parkinson’s disease (PD), but are not well character…
– Gregory Michael Pontone, MD, M.H.S.
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