New study unlocks early signals of brain disease through sleep

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In a new study published in the journal eBioMedicine, researchers have found a potential early indicator for severe brain diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

The key lies in our sleep and the DNA within the powerhouses of our cells—the mitochondria.

Mitochondria are crucial for neuron survival, powering our brain cells like tiny internal batteries. Unlike most of our body’s cells, neurons rely almost exclusively on these organelles for energy.

The study reveals that when mitochondrial DNA within these organelles starts losing pieces of its genetic code, it could signal the onset of neurodegenerative diseases much before the classic symptoms appear.

This investigation was spearheaded by a team including Álex Iranzo, a professor at the University of Barcelona and head of the Neurology Service at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, and Ramon Trullàs, a researcher from the Spanish National Research Council.

They, along with first author Margalida Puigròs and others, embarked on this study to understand the mysteries of idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder (iRBD).

iRBD is a condition that disrupts the deepest phase of sleep, causing people to act out their dreams, sometimes violently. This disorder is intriguing because it often precedes the development of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

To delve deeper, the researchers analyzed cerebrospinal fluid samples from 71 patients, some of whom had iRBD, while others later developed Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia. Their findings were startling.

Patients with iRBD showed a higher level of mitochondrial DNA with deletions—missing chunks of genetic material—compared to those in a healthy control group.

This connection between mitochondrial DNA damage and iRBD could be a critical clue in understanding how neurodegenerative diseases begin.

What’s even more fascinating is that the amount of mitochondrial DNA with deletions in patients with iRBD was linked to how quickly they developed the full-blown symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

This discovery suggests that the damage to mitochondrial DNA isn’t just a side effect; it could be one of the very first dominoes to fall in the complex chain of events leading to these debilitating conditions.

This study is a significant step forward in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases, offering hope for earlier diagnosis and potentially opening the door to new treatments.

By identifying the early signs of disease before the classic symptoms emerge, doctors could intervene sooner, possibly slowing or even preventing the progression of conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

The researchers call for further investigation to understand the precise role of mitochondrial DNA deletions in neurodegeneration.

Yet, this study highlights an important insight: sometimes, the clues to solving the biggest puzzles in brain health lie in the smallest details and, unexpectedly, in the patterns of our sleep.

If you care about brain health ,please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and cranberries could help boost memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about heartburn drugs that could increase risk of dementia, and results showing this MIND diet may protect your cognitive function, prevent dementia.

The research findings can be found in eBioMedicine.

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