Little is known about the molecular causes of Parkinson’s disease. However, there is evidence linking the loss of dopaminergic neurons to the tremors and motor problems that are experienced by patients with the disease. Up until now this loss has been considered irreversible, but a new study led by Brad Morrison from Boise State University (ID, USA) suggests that dopaminergic neuron regrowth may be possible. The results of the study were published recently in the journal Neuroscience Letters.
Dopamine is involved with emotional response and also plays a key role in movement. The results of the study indicated that the rate of replenishment of the dopaminergic neurons is equivalent to the rate of loss recorded in an inflammatory response mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. This suggests that the inflammatory insult blocks the generation of neurons, consequently leading to Parkinson’s disease.
Existing medications treat only the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and become less effective over time. The results of this study may therefore provide an important step towards a new treatment strategy for preventing neuronal loss.
Importantly, the findings contradict the view that only a small number of neuronal populations are capable of regenerating in adult mammalian brains. Morrison developed a system to genetically trace the lineage of dopaminergic neurons from stem cells. He removed the identified gene from stem cells utilizing recombinant DNA technology, and after six months observed that removal of the gene affected mature dopaminergic neurons, suggesting that they may be replenished by stem cells.
His current research focuses on characterizing the stem cells responsible for this process, as well as studying the potential correlation of inflammation and a decrease in dopaminergic neurons.