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Are current drugs for Parkinson's disease ineffective?
As this ScienCentral news video reports, new research shows that mixed signals
in Parkinson's patients' brains means a cure could be farther away than expected.
disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases affecting
older people in the United States. Itâ€™s characterized by the loss of
a neurotransmitter, called dopamine, caused by the death of dopamine
neurons in a portion of the brain known as the basal
professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and his team
recorded the activity of individual neurons in the basal ganglia of rats,
after depleting the dopamine in their brain. They inserted a microelectrode
in the ratâ€™s brain and studied the neuron signals to and from different
body parts. The results of the study are published in the October issue of
the Journal of Comparative Neurology. It was funded by the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, the Public
Health Service, and the Charles and Johanne Busch Foundation.
West explains that neurons that send and receive signals to and from the same
part of the body normally cluster together. But after dopamine loss, West
and his colleagues found that some neurons around the edges of the clusters
changed their responsiveness to different body parts. These neurons began
to receive input signals from other body parts, but still sent output signals
to the original body part.
“And since they maintain their normal output connections, and the input
connections have changed, the brain is unable to interpret these signals”,
says West. “And this potentially explains why Parkinsonâ€™s patients
have difficulty with movement, especially movements that require sensory guidance.”
Current treatment is ineffective
The researchers also found that the reorganized connections seemed to be permanent.
So while dopamine-boosting drugs like Levo
Dopa can raise the amount of dopamine available in the brain, it cannot
repair these switched connections.
Nieves at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School works with Parkinsonâ€™s
patients. She says, “Levo Dopa is not the answer, itâ€™s just a
band aid that will treat the symptoms of Parkinsonâ€™s like the tremor
and the slowness and the shuffling. But itâ€™s not the cure. It will not
stop the disease.”
In fact, West says, the permanently changed connections make finding a cure
for Parkinsonâ€™s disease next to impossible. He calls for more research
to find ways to prevent Parkinsonâ€™s disease: “That is, prevent
the dopamine loss and prevent these changes in the connections in the first