Parkinson’s: New treatment focuses on two nervous systems at once

Scientists have found that a technique for targeting a specific group of brain cells associated with Parkinson’s disease is also effective in treating a separate group of brain cells.

A female nurse explaining something to her patient
Researchers may have identified a new two-pronged approach to Parkinson’s disease.

These findings are now published in the journal Neurotherapeutics.

The initial technique is a type of gene therapy that was first used by researchers to target cholinergic neurons in rat brains in 2015. Cholinergic neurons are a type of nerve cell that affects Parkinson’s disease.

Now, using brain imaging techniques, scientists have discovered that their method has also positively affected a group of cells near cholinergic neurons called dopaminergic neurons.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Parkinson’s disease is a type of neurological condition that usually affects people over the age of 60.

Symptoms include tremors or tremors, stiffness or stiffness in the trunk or limbs, slow motion, and impaired balance.

These symptoms occur because the condition causes a decrease in the brain cells that produce dopamine or dopaminergic neurons.

Cell-to-cell interaction

The original method demonstrated by the researchers in 2015 was to use the virus to provide genetic modification to the cholinergic neurons of rats genetically modified to develop Parkinson’s disease. The scientists then used a drug that could stimulate the target neurons.

In the new study, the scientists showed how brain imaging technology was used to reveal a clear channel of communication between the cholinergic neurons they were targeting in the 2015 study and the nearby dopaminergic neurons.

The stimulation of the rats ‘ cholinergic neurons also stimulated their dopaminergic neurons through cell-to-cell interactions.This seemed to restore the dopamine-producing function in the dopaminergic neurons

As a result, rats had a complete recovery, including the restoration of movement and the reversal of posture impairment.

According to senior study author Dr. Ilse Pienaar, “When we used brain imaging, we found that when we activated cholinergic neurons, they interacted directly with dopaminergic neurons.”

“This seems to be a knock-on effect, so by targeting this one set of neurons, we now know that we can also stimulate dopaminergic neurons, effectively restart dopamine production, and reduce dopamine production.

“This is really important, as it reveals more about how the brain’s nervous systems interact, but also how we can successfully target two major[…] Parkinson’s disease-affected systems in a more accurate manner.”

– Dr. Ilse Pienaar

Future treatment for Parkinson’s disease?

This means that researchers may be able to develop more effective and less invasive treatment for Parkinson’s disease in humans in the future.

Current Parkinson’s treatments focus on managing the condition through the use of drugs, but these often have significant side effects and usually become ineffective after 5 years.

Alternative treatments include deep brain stimulation, an invasive procedure that releases electronic pulses into a person’s brain. However, the results of this procedure are mixed, which researchers believe is due to the fact that it affects all cells in the brain of a person rather than the specific cells that Parkinson’s disease affects.

What makes the new findings promising is that treatment is both non-invasive and targeted, producing excellent results in rats.

As Dr. Pienaar explains, “Treatments need to be focused and targeted for the highest chance of recovery, but this requires a lot more research and understanding of exactly how Parkinson’s works and how our nervous systems work.”

“The discovery that both cholinergic and dopaminergic neurons can be successfully targeted together is a major step forward.”

– Dr. Ilse Pienaar

“While this kind of gene therapy still needs to be tested on humans, our work can provide a solid platform for future bioengineering projects.”

Co-author Lisa Wells adds: “It has been an exciting journey working with Dr. Pienaar’s team to combine the two technologies to provide us with a powerful molecular approach to neuronal signaling and neurotransmitter release measurement. We can support the clinical translation of this’ molecular switch’ into clinical use through live imaging technology.”

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