In preliminary results, researchers have shown that a drug which mimics the effects of the nerve-signaling chemical dopamine causes new neurons to develop in the part of the brain where cells are lost in Parkinson's disease (PD). The drug also led to long-lasting recovery of function in an animal model of PD. The findings may lead to new ways of treating PD and other neurodegenerative diseases. The study was funded in part by the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
The study suggests that drugs that affect dopamine D3 receptors might trigger new neurons to grow in humans with the disease. Some of these drugs are commonly used to treat PD. The finding also suggests a way to develop new treatments for PD. The results appear in the July 5, 2006, issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.*
Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that causes tremors, stiffness, slow movements, and impaired balance and coordination, results from the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in part of the brain called the substantia nigra. While many drugs are available to treat these symptoms during the early stages of the disease, the treatments become less effective with time. There are no treatments proven to slow or halt the course of PD. However, many researchers have been trying to find ways of replacing the lost neurons. One possible way to do this would be to transplant new neurons that are grown from embryonic stem cells or neural progenitor cells. However, this type of treatment is very difficult for technical reasons.
The new study, conducted by Christopher Eckman, Ph.D., and Jackalina Van Kampen, Ph.D., at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Florida, focused on a second possible way to restore function prompting stem cells that normally remain dormant in the adult brain to develop into neurons. While most researchers previously believed the adult brain could
Contact: Natalie Frazin
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke