Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common nervous system disorders among seniors, but until now, scientists and doctors were unsure why it occurred. Now, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine have determined exactly how the disease starts and spreads.
The illness is characterized by muscle tremors and lack of coordination, because muscle movement is controlled by a chemical in the brain called dopamine, which is affected by the illness, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Researchers already knew that the disease occurs when the nerve cells in the brain that make dopamine slowly die, but why and how the cells get destroyed was unknown until recently.
In their study, the Penn researchers found a cause-and-effect relationship between the formation of α-Synuclein (α-Syn) proteins, which are associated with Parkinsons, and neurodegeneration. When they injected these synthetic proteins into the brains of healthy mice, they saw cell-to-cell transmission of the pathologic a-Syn proteins and clumps of these proteins, known as Lewy bodies, in regions of the brain that are interconnected.
The researchers said the paper is significant in several ways. For one, it confirms the role Lewy bodies play in the neurodegeneration that occurs in Parkinson’s patients, thus providing a target for therapies and treatments. It also may lead to discoveries in Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s care, since they share the same type of disease progression.