Scientists have untangled two similar disabilities that often afflict stroke patients, in the process// revealing that one may be treatable with drugs for Parkinson's disease.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis showed that stroke damage in a brain region known as the putamen is strongly linked to motor neglect, a condition that makes patients slow to move toward the left side.
Like stroke patients with motor neglect, Parkinson's patients are also slow to initiate responses involving movement. Scientists attribute this deficit in Parkinson's disease to loss of neurons that use the neurotransmitter dopamine to regulate activity in the putamen.
"Earlier attempts to treat stroke patients with neglect with dopamine-like compounds have produced mixed results," says lead author Ayelet Sapir, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher in neurology. "It's possible, though, that those unfavorable outcomes resulted from an inability to identify the patients most likely to benefit from the intervention. Our data indicate that patients with damage to the putamen may respond differently to this treatment than patients who have neglect from stroke damage to other parts of brain."
Sapir describes the research, which appears in The Journal of Neuroscience, as part of a broader effort to precisely determine how strokes in different parts of the brain's right hemisphere affect patients. She and others want to closely link damage in a given right brain region to a particular set of symptoms.
"This approach has been applied to strokes affecting the left hemisphere, where damage to various brain areas is linked to specific kinds of language deficits," Sapir says. "Taking the same approach to studying lesions of the right hemisphere should help improve patient treatment by allowing us to develop therapeutic approaches targeted to specific brain circuits and neurochemical systems."
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