New research implicates natural toxin as triggering Parkinson's disease

Feb 10, 2011

In new research from Saint Louis University, investigators have found evidence that a toxin produced by the brain is responsible for the series of cellular events that lead to Parkinson's disease. The study, published in PLoS One, found that the brain toxin DOPAL plays a key role in killing the dopamine neurons which trigger the illness.

In earlier research, Saint Louis University investigators found that DOPAL seemed to be responsible for killing healthy dopamine cells, which in turn causes Parkinson disease to develop. Now, research in an animal model gives them further reason to suspect the chemical as the culprit.

Parkinson's disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative movement disorder, affecting 2 percent of individuals older than age 65 and 4 to 5 percent older than 85 years. The disorder is due to a loss of dopamine neurons and is characterized by bradykinesia and tremors while at rest.

Saint Louis University investigators found that DOPAL, a breakdown product of dopamine, killed healthy dopamine cells and produced an of Parkinson's disease, giving them evidence to suspect that DOPAL is the culprit.

Dopamine, a vital chemical that allows for coordinated function of neurons controlling the body's muscles and movements, is produced by in the substantia nigra. When 80 percent of these cells die or become damaged, symptoms of Parkinson's disease begin to appear, including tremors, slowness of movement, rigidity and stiffness, and difficulty with balance.

Lead researcher, W. Michael Panneton, Ph.D., professor of pharmacological and physiological science at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, says the research offers a big step forward in the understanding of Parkinson disease.

"In Parkinson disease, we knew that the death of dopamine cells is responsible for patients' symptoms," said Panneton. "But no one knew why the cells are dying."

From a cellular perspective, doctors know some pieces of the puzzle. They know that Parkinson patients have a loss of dopamine neurons in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, leading to severe dopamine loss in another part of the brain called the striatum, and the aggregation of a protein called alpha-synuclein.

Alpha-synuclein is found throughout the brain. In some people, the protein clumps together. Researchers found that it is DOPAL that causes alpha-synuclein protein in the brain to aggregate. This induces further increases of DOPAL leading to the death of the dopamine-producing cells, which in turn causes Parkinson's symptoms to develop.

Currently, the main approach to Parkinson's disease is to treat symptoms by replacing dopamine that's lost when the cells die. This approach however does not prevent the loss of causing Parkinson's disease.

This new research opens up promising new research avenues to prevent dopamine neuron loss and the progression of .

Explore further: Philippines asks airline passengers to check for MERS

Provided by Saint Louis University

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Parkinson's: Neurons destroyed by 3 simultaneous strikes

Apr 29, 2009

In a study that reveals the clearest picture to date of neuron death in Parkinson's disease, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have found that a trio of culprits acting in concert is responsible for killing ...

Unfolding pathogenesis in Parkinson's

Jan 19, 2011

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, reveals that damaged alpha-synuclein proteins (which are implicated in Parkinson's disease) can spread in a 'prion-like' manner, an infection model previously descri ...

Hormone ghrelin can boost resistance to Parkinson's disease

Nov 25, 2009

Ghrelin, a hormone produced in the stomach, may be used to boost resistance to, or slow, the development of Parkinson's disease, Yale School of Medicine researchers report in a study published in a recent issue of the Journal of ...

Skin cells could help discover cause of Parkinson's disease

Jul 14, 2010

Researchers are applying new stem cell technology to use skin samples to grow the brain cells thought to be responsible for the onset of Parkinson's disease, the UK National Stem Cell Network (UKNSCN) annual science meeting ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

9 hours ago

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...

Tracking flu levels with Wikipedia

9 hours ago

Can monitoring Wikipedia hits show how many people have the flu? Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, USA, have developed a method of estimating levels of influenza-like illness in the American population by analysing ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

Men who show signs of chronic inflammation in non-cancerous prostate tissue may have nearly twice the risk of actually having prostate cancer than those with no inflammation, according to results of a new study led by researchers ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...