Other brain parts can compensate for the loss caused by Parkinson’s, study finds

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Parkinson’s disease is notorious for the gradual loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, making movement and thinking progressively more difficult.

New research from Radboud University Medical Center brings hope, revealing that the cerebral cortex can adapt and take over tasks from the damaged areas, potentially reducing symptom severity and slowing disease progression.

Importantly, activities like sports could enhance this compensatory mechanism.

Background: A Complicated Connection

The decrease of dopamine-producing cells characterizes Parkinson’s disease. Traditionally, managing Parkinson’s has involved supplementing the lost dopamine.

Interestingly, a clear correlation between the loss of dopamine-producing cells and symptom severity hasn’t been firmly established.

This mismatch prompted the researchers to explore whether other compensatory mechanisms might be at play.

Research and Findings: A Beacon of Hope

The research included 353 Parkinson’s patients and 60 healthy volunteers, each undergoing an MRI scan while participating in a decision-making task.

The MRI data showed that the basal ganglia, a deep-brain structure dependent on dopamine, indeed, exhibited less activity in Parkinson’s patients.

Remarkably, it was the cerebral cortex, the brain’s outer layer, that showed compensatory activity, particularly in regions associated with movement control.

Patients with mild symptoms had elevated activity in the cerebral cortex, even surpassing that of healthy individuals, illustrating the compensatory role of this brain region.

Conversely, those with severe symptoms demonstrated significantly less activity in the cerebral cortex.

Clinical Implications: An Alternate Path to Symptom Management

This newfound understanding of the cerebral cortex’s compensatory ability could shift the focus of Parkinson’s disease management.

While dopamine replacement will remain crucial, reinforcing the compensatory mechanisms of the cerebral cortex may be equally important.

The study underscores the importance of regular exercise in maintaining cerebral cortex health and, subsequently, in mitigating the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Conclusion: A Step Towards Comprehensive Management

This research uncovers a pivotal role of the cerebral cortex in compensating for the losses experienced in Parkinson’s disease, influencing symptom severity and potentially offering a degree of protection against the progression of the condition.

This adaptability opens new avenues for treatment, emphasizing lifestyle modifications like regular exercise, as an integral part of a comprehensive approach to managing Parkinson’s disease.

If you care about Parkinson’s disease, please read studies that Vitamin B may slow down cognitive decline, and Mediterranean diet could help lower 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.

The research findings can be found in Brain.

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