Scientists find new triggers of Parkinson’s disease

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A groundbreaking study from Northwestern Medicine has shifted the focus on what triggers Parkinson’s disease.

Conventionally, the degradation of dopamine-producing neurons has been considered the culprit.

However, this new study suggests that the dysfunction at the synapses—the tiny gaps where impulses pass from one neuron to another—may precede and lead to deficits in dopamine as well as neurodegeneration.

The Importance of Dopaminergic Synapses

The study, led by Dr. Dimitri Krainc, chair of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, proposes that dopaminergic synapses become dysfunctional before the neurons themselves die.

This insight could revolutionize therapeutic strategies by suggesting that treatments should target these dysfunctional synapses before neurons degenerate.

The Gap in Parkinson’s Research

Understanding the physiology of human dopamine neurons is essential as previous findings in mice are not translatable to humans.

This study, therefore, focused on patient-derived midbrain neurons to bridge a significant gap in the field of Parkinson’s research.

A Recycling Mechanism Gone Awry

A fascinating part of the study concerns the role of genes Parkin and PINK1 in a cellular process known as mitophagy, responsible for recycling worn-out mitochondria.

It’s well-established that mutations in these genes can lead to Parkinson’s due to ineffective mitophagy.

A Tale of Two Sisters and a New Discovery

The story of two sisters born without the PINK1 gene offered an unexpected revelation. One sister was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 16, and the other at 48.

The earlier diagnosis was puzzling as the sister had only a partial loss of Parkin—a condition thought not to trigger Parkinson’s by itself.

This led the researchers to discover that Parkin also plays a role in a different pathway where it controls dopamine release.

New Therapeutic Horizons

With this newfound understanding, there’s an opportunity to boost Parkin to potentially prevent the degeneration of dopamine neurons.

“We discovered a new mechanism to activate Parkin in patient neurons,” said Dr. Krainc, “Now, we need to develop drugs that stimulate this pathway, correct synaptic dysfunction, and hopefully prevent neuronal degeneration in Parkinson’s.”

The Path Forward

The new study not only challenges conventional wisdom but also opens doors for innovative treatments that focus on synaptic dysfunction.

It seems that the key to conquering Parkinson’s may lie not just in the neurons themselves but in the tiny gaps that connect them.

If you care about Parkinson’s disease, please read studies that Vitamin E may help prevent Parkinson’s, and Vitamin D could benefit people with Parkinson’s.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about foods that could improve survival in Parkinson’s disease, and vitamin D supplements strongly reduce cancer death.

The research findings can be found in Neuron.

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