In a new study, researchers found that cytisine—a smoking cessation drug commonly used in Europe—reduces the loss of dopamine neurons in females.
These findings provide potential evidence for the use of the drug to treat Parkinson’s disease or stop its progression in women.
The research was conducted by a team at Texas A&M University.
There are approximately 10 million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to a variety of symptoms that can include difficulty walking, tremors, shaking and others unrelated to movement.
These symptoms start to develop when at least 50 percent of dopamine neurons in an individual’s brain are dead or impaired.
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s and no treatment that can stop or prevent the loss of these dopamine neurons that are needed for the body to move.
About a decade ago, the team started to examine why smokers and people who consume tobacco chronically are at a lower risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.
In the study, they decided to test cytisine as an alternative to nicotine. Cytisine is a smoking cessation drug with properties similar to nicotine, but with very few side effects in people.
During experiments, the team artificially induced Parkinson’s disease in animal models. During that time, they either gave them saline (salt water) or cytisine.
Their findings showed that there was a protective effect both in terms of reducing Parkinsonian behaviors and also in terms of reducing the number of dopamine neurons lost.
However, the protective effect of cytisine occurred only in female animal models, and not in males.
They discovered that the combination of cytisine and estrogen produces a stronger protective effect than cytisine and no estrogen.
This explains why the effect only occurred in female animal models, since males do not have appreciable amounts of estrogen.
Although their findings currently only apply to females, the team hopes to find solutions for males and postmenopausal females, too.
The next step for them is to solidify and confirm the role of estrogen specifically as a protective effect against Parkinson’s disease.
One author of the study is Rahul Srinivasan, assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience & Experimental Therapeutics.
The study is published in the Journal of Neurochemistry.
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