'Brain Cell Burnout' May Be at Root of Parkinson's

the Psychiatry Advisor take:

Brain cells that burn out due to unusually high energy needs may be at the root of Parkinson’s disease.

Louis-Éric Trudeau, PhD, of the University of Montreal, Canada, and colleagues investigated why mitochondria — the so-called powerhouse of a cell — tend to work so hard in areas of the brain impacted by Parkinson’s.

Cells in these areas are extremely complex with many branches and sites where neurotransmitters are released, suggesting the complexity requires a large amount of energy, the researchers reported in the journal Current Biology. In Parkinson’s, brain cells that release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps to regulate movement and emotional responses, are impacted.

“Like a motor constantly running at high speed, these neurons need to produce an incredible amount of energy to function,” Trudeau said in a statement. “They appear to exhaust themselves and die prematurely.”

Trudeau noted that the findings support the idea that complex neurons force their mitochondria to work at burnout rates to meet their energy demands, which explains the accelerated deterioration. He added he hopes the findings will produce better ways to represent Parkinson's disease in animal models and lead to new treatments.

'Brain Cell Burnout' May Be at Root of Parkinson's
Discovery could potentially lead to new treatments.

Parkinson's disease may be the result of an energy crisis in brain cells that have unusually high energy needs in order to control movement. The crisis causes the cells to overheat and burn themselves out.

The researchers hope the findings will produce better ways to represent Parkinson's disease in animal models and lead to new treatments. This could then lead to discovery of drugs to help brain cells reduce their energy consumption or use energy more efficiently, thus reducing the damage they accumulate over time. The team is already pursuing this end.

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