Parkinson’s disease may start even before birth

Washington: People who develop Parkinson’s disease before the age of 50 may have been born with disordered brain cells that went undetected for decades, according to a study that paves the way for a potential drug to treat the condition. Parkinson’s occurs when brain neurons that make dopamine, a substance that helps coordinate muscle movement, become impaired or die.

Symptoms, which get worse over time, include slowness of movement, rigid muscles, tremors and loss of balance. Although most patients are 60 or older when they are diagnosed, about 10 per cent are between 21 and 50 years old, according to the research.

The research team generated special stem cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), from cells of patients with young-onset Parkinson’s disease. The iPSCs are cells which can develop into many different cell types in the body during early life, and growth. The team used the iPSCs to produce dopamine neurons from each patient and then cultured them in a dish and analysed the neurons’ functions.

“Our technique gave us a window back in time to see how well the dopamine neurons might have functioned from the very start of a patient’s life,” said Clive Svendsen, director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine

Institute. The researchers detected two key abnormalities in the dopamine neurons in the dish. The first was an accumulation of a protein called alpha-synuclein, which occurs in most forms of Parkinson’s disease.


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