"This research has the potential to progress quickly," says James Beck, PhD, director of research programs at the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, which helped support the research. "Equally exciting are the new avenues of research this study opens, hopefully leading to better treatments for Parkinson's Disease down the road."
Though many cellular defects have been found to cause rare, inherited forms of Parkinson's disease, most cases of Parkinson's are caused by unknown changes inside the brain's neurons.
The researchers used a wide variety of scientific techniques to search for still unidentified defects in the brain. The suite of techniques which started with high resolution brain imaging has been used to reveal previously unknown molecules in the brain that worsen Alzheimer's disease.
Imaging Reveals Brainstem Defect in Parkinson's Patients
The success of the technique depends on identifying regions of the brain affected by the disease and comparing them to unaffected regions.
Using high resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Nicole Lewandowski, PhD, who is currently a post-doctoral research scientist in Dr. Small's lab, identified such regions in the brainstem of patients with Parkinson's. The scans showed that one region of the brainstem was consistently less active in these patients than in healthy control subjects. Also revealed in the scans was a neighboring region that was unaffected by the disease.
Next, using brain tissue from deceased patients with Parkinson's, the researchers looked for proteins that could potentially explain the brainstem imaging differences.
"One such protein we found, called SAT1, stood out," said Dr. Small. "Because SAT1 is known as an enzyme that helps
|Contact: Karin Eskenazi|
Columbia University Medical Center