Improved treatment for Parkinson’s on the horizon, research suggests

A study of mice shows improvement of disease symptoms

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have discovered that activation of a special group of neurons in the brain responsible for controlling motor movement is successful in restoring movement in mice who have motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The implications of these findings suggest that using Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) “in the right therapeutic spot” may help improve current treatments of some motor symptoms in those living with Parkinson’s, according to study authors Débora Masini and Ole Kiehn.

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The results were published last month in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Communications.

Parkinson’s disease affects nearly 10 million people worldwide. It’s a neurodegenerative condition with symptoms such as shaking, stiffness, difficulty walking and challenges with balance and coordination that develop slowly and worsen over time. Other symptoms of Parkinson’s include behavioral changes, depression and other mood conditions, memory difficulties and fatigue.

Parkinson’s is often treated with oral medication; however, later stage motor difficulties are more challenging to control, and often don’t respond well to medical treatment, said Masini.

To address this, some treatment plans for Parkinson’s patients include DBS, a type of surgical treatment in which a small metal wire is placed inside the brain and used to send electrical pulses to targeted areas. This type of treatment can effectively treat tremors, but has shown to be less effective in treating symptoms such as walking difficulties.

But doctors and researchers have long-hypothesized that stimulating more targeted neurons in the brain, such as those located in the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN), might more effectively alleviate walking difficulties in Parkinson’s patients.

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The findings from the University of Copenhagen animal study lend this hypothesis credence.

The study found that when specific neurons in the PPN were stimulated in animals with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as walking difficulties, the animals were able to walk normally for longer distances compared to before the stimulation. This led researchers to conclude that “these excitatory neurons in the caudal PPN are an ideal target for recovery of movement loss.”

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen hope that their findings will help guide physicians in more effectively targeting DBS treatment in their own Parkinson’s patients struggling with the debilitating locomotive effects of the disease.

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