Here’s good news for PD patients and their families. The early detection of Parkinson’s Disease could mean that doctors will be able to intervene early to stop the progression of this neurodegenerative disease. PD affects a persons speech, posture, gait, digestion, sleep, impulse control and cognition. About one million Americans and 10 million people worldwide suffer from PD. To date, there is no treatment to cure the disease. Existing therapies treat only the symptoms. But this may change.
What Causes PD?
PD and other neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by an accumulation of α-synuclein ( a neuronal protein, aka αSyn). This protein is present mainly at the tips of neurons (nerve cells). We know that the accumulation of αSyn is directly involved in the progression of PD. We don’t understand the main functions of αSyn. But research shows that the protein is associated with the regulation of the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls the start and stop of voluntary and involuntary movements. When this system malfunctions, you see the motor symptoms that are the hallmark of PD.
Researchers in Israel, England and Germany teamed up to find a new method that tracks the early stages of the gathering together of this protein. The study was published in Acta Neuropathologica.
New Method Tracks Early Stages of PD
What do the early detection of Parkinson’s Disease and the accumulation of αSyn have in common?
By the time doctors diagnose a patient with PD, up to 80 percent of the cells that produce dopamine are already dead. Researchers think that this happens from the toxins produced when αSyn accumulates. The new method tracks the early stages of the accumulation.
Tel Aviv University Prof. Uri Ashery, co-author of the study and head of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, explained that the team used super-resolution microscopy and advanced analysis to do this tracking. At the same time, collaborators at Cambridge University developed a special mouse model for Parkinson’s disease. They were able to detect different stages of the accumulation of αSyn.
Co-author Dana Bar-On of the Sagol School of Neuroscience said that the the effects of drugs on the accumulation of αSyn can be monitored using this new method. Researchers from TAU and from the Max Planck Institute in Gottingen and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München showed the effect of a specific drug, anle138b, on the accumulated protein.
What This New Tracking Method Means
In the future, doctors may use this research to detect the onset of PD in relatives of patients with PD. By detecting the onset of PD early, doctors will be able to intervene and treat the disease even before symptoms are detected.