In a new study, researchers have mapped out the cell types behind various brain disorders.
The findings offer a roadmap for the development of new therapies to target neurological and psychiatric disorders.
One interesting finding was that cells from the gut’s nervous system are involved in Parkinson’s disease, indicating that the disease may start there.
The research was conducted by a team at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the University of North Carolina in the USA.
The nervous system is composed of hundreds of different cell types with very different functions.
It is vital to understand which cell types are affected in each disorder so as to understand the causes of the disorders and, ultimately, develop new treatments.
Researchers have now combined mice gene expression studies with human genetics to systematically map cell types underlying various brain disorders.
This includes Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder with cognitive and motor symptoms resulting from the loss of dopamine-producing cells in a specific region of the brain.
The team found that dopaminergic neurons were associated with Parkinson’s disease.
More surprisingly, they found that enteric neurons also seem to play an important role in the disorder, supporting the hypothesis that Parkinson’s disease starts in the gut.
When the researchers analyzed differences in brain tissue from healthy people and people with Parkinson’s disease at different stages of the disease, they made another unexpected discovery.
A type of support cell in the brain called oligodendrocytes were found to be affected early on, suggesting that they play a key role in the early stages of the disease.
The oligodendrocytes appear to be affected even before the loss of dopaminergic neurons.
The team says this makes them an attractive target for therapeutic interventions in Parkinson’s disease.
One author of the study is Patrick Sullivan, Professor at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
The study is published in Nature Genetics.
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