Noninvasive Way to Target Brain Cells Impacted by Parkinson's Found

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Researchers have found a potential way to improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by targeting brain cells of the neurocognitive disorder.

Ilse Pienaar, PhD, of Imperial College London, England, and colleagues studied rats that had been treated to have symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease. They were then treated with a non-invasive treatment designed to target and stimulate a particular type of nerve cell called cholinergic neurons.

These neurons are thought to be involved in Parkinson’s as post-mortem studies of brains has indicated that in Parkinson’s patients, about half of these cells are gone.

In their experiment, the researchers used a non-threatening virus to deliver a genetic 'switch' to the cholinergic neurons. The rats were then given a drug that was designed to activate the 'switch' and stimulate the neurons. After the treatment, almost all the rats made an almost complete recovery and were able to function normally, the researchers reported in the journal Molecular Neurodegeneration.

“This study confirms that cholinergic neurons are key to the gait problems and postural instability experienced by advanced Parkinson's disease patient,” Pienaar said in a statement.  It also suggests that it's possible to target those cells that remain to compensate for those that are no longer functioning effectively, possibly due to weak communication between nerve cells.”

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A non-threatening virus was delivered a genetic "switch" to cholinergic neurons in the brains of rat cells, followed by a drug to activate the "switch."

Researchers from Imperial College London and Newcastle University believe they have found a potential new way to target cells of the brain affected by Parkinson's disease.

The new technique is relatively non-invasive and has worked to improve symptoms of the disease in rats.

Parkinson's disease causes progressive problems with movement, posture and balance. It is currently treated with drugs, but these have severe side-effects and can become ineffective after around five years. The only treatment subsequently available to patients is deep brain stimulation, a surgical technique where an electrical current is used to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.

As well as being an invasive treatment, it has mixed results - some patients benefit while others experience no improvement or even deteriorate. Researchers believe this is because the treatment is imprecise, stimulating all types of nerve cells, not just the intended target.

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