SAN FRANCISCO, CASeptember 8, 2011 A scientist at the Gladstone Institutes has identified how the lack of a brain chemical known as dopamine can rewire the interaction between two groups of brain cells and lead to symptoms of Parkinson's disease. This discovery offers new hope for treating those suffering from this devastating neurodegenerative disease.
In a paper being published online today in Neuron, Gladstone Investigator Anatol Kreitzer, PhD, identifies how the loss of dopamine alters the wiring of a small group of brain cells, kicking off a chain of events that eventually leads to difficulties controlling movementa hallmark of Parkinson's disease. More than a half-million people suffer from Parkinson's in the United States, including the boxer Muhammad Ali and the actor Michael J. Fox.
"The development of truly effective and well-tolerated therapies for Parkinson's has proven difficult," said Lennart Mucke, MD, who directs neurological disease research at the Gladstone Institutes, a leading and independent biomedical-research organization. Dr. Mucke is also a professor of neurology and neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), with which Gladstone is affiliated. "Dr. Kreitzer's discovery sheds new light on the intricate processes that underlie motor problems in this disabling condition and will hopefully lead to the development of more effective medicines."
Normally, two types of brain cells called medium spiny neurons, or MSNs, work together to coordinate body movements, with one type acting like a gas pedal and the other as a brake. It has been thought that a reduction in dopamine, an important chemical in the brain, throws off the balance between the two opposing MSN forces, leading to problems with movement. But Dr. Kreitzer wondered if another factor might also be involved. To better understand the relationship between dopamine and MSNs in people with Parkinson's, Dr. Kreitzer artificially
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