Parkinson’s disease, a condition that causes tremors, balance problems, and speech difficulties, has long mystified scientists.
However, a recent study by a group of U.S. researchers may have brought us a step closer to understanding the disease.
The team has discovered a specific type of brain cell that seems to die in those affected by Parkinson’s disease. Their findings were recently published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
The Basics of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s is a disease that gradually worsens over time, a condition scientists refer to as ‘progressive neurodegenerative.’
It develops when nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra begin to break down for reasons we don’t fully understand yet.
This deterioration leads to less dopamine, a chemical in the brain that helps control body movements. As more and more of these cells stop working, the symptoms of Parkinson’s get worse.
A Closer Look at the Substantia Nigra
In this new study, the researchers decided to zoom in on the substantia nigra. Their goal? To identify which specific nerve cells in this brain area die in people with Parkinson’s.
To do this, the scientists used a recent technique called single-cell RNA sequencing. This method allows researchers to study individual cells in a tissue sample.
It helps them understand which genes in the cells are making proteins. Using this technique, the researchers classified the cells in the substantia nigra into 10 different subtypes.
Comparing Healthy Brains with Parkinson’s Brains
Next, the researchers got brain samples from 10 people who had Parkinson’s or a related condition called Lewy body dementia at the time they died.
The team did the same RNA sequencing on these samples, just as they did with the substantia nigra cells.
But they didn’t stop there. The scientists also looked at multiple brain samples from people who didn’t have Parkinson’s or Lewy body dementia. These samples were collected after the individuals died.
Then, the big comparison happened. The researchers looked for differences between the samples from Parkinson’s patients and those from people without the disease.
The result? They found one of the brain cell subtypes was reduced in Parkinson’s patients. This strongly suggests that this cell type is the most affected in people with Parkinson’s.
The Next Step
Identifying the most vulnerable brain cells in Parkinson’s disease could open the door to new research and treatment strategies.
Understanding why these cells are more likely to die might help scientists develop ways to protect them or slow their deterioration, which could potentially ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
While there’s still a lot we don’t know about this complex disease, each new discovery takes us one step closer to solving the Parkinson’s puzzle.
If you care about Parkinson’s disease, please read studies that Vitamin B may slow down cognitive decline, and the Mediterranean diet could help lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline, and results showing Plant-based diets could protect cognitive health from air pollution.
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