A new study has found that Parkinson’s disease may be caused by an energy crisis taking place in brain cells that require extreme amounts of energy to control movement. When this crisis occurs, it makes brain cells overheat and burn out.
Louis-Éric Trudeau, lead researcher and professor of pharmacology and neurosciences from the University of Montreal (Canada), gave a statement saying that “Like a motor constantly running at high speed, these neurons need to produce an incredible amount of energy to function. They appear to exhaust themselves and die prematurely”.
Professor Trudeau has been studying the brain part responsible for Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction and schizophrenia for the past 17 years. He hopes that the new findings will allow field experts to come up with better animal models for Parkinson’s disease, and eventually develop better, more efficient treatments.
His team of researchers is already working on finding a way to reduce the energy consumption of the brain cells, or the very least make them use it more efficiently and reduce the damage they accumulate throughout the years. One potential approach could be discovering or developing new drugs.
The good news is that there are only a few areas of the brain that allow Parkinson’s disease to arise when their brain cells die. One such area is the substantia nigra.
Parkinson’s attacks brain cells that release dopamine, a chemical well known for regulating emotional responses and movement, among other things. But the amount of dopamine that they produce decreases as the disease progresses, and the patient’s symptoms continue to worsen and make it harder and harder for them to talk, walk, look after themselves and lead normal lives.
These symptoms include having tremors, slow movements, impaired balance and stiffness.
The investigation started about three (3) years ago, when Professor Trudeaua and his team began to look into why mitochondria found inside brain cells in areas of the brain that allow Parkinson’s disease to arise have a tendency to overheat.
What they found was that the brain cells in these areas are constructed in very complex structures that have a lot of sites and branches where they release the chemical messengers. It is precisely this complexity that requires extreme levels of energy.
Professor Trudeau explained that the study reinforces the idea that these highly complex structures force the resident mitochondria to work excessively in order to meet their energy needs, accelerating their deterioration and causing them to burn out before their time.
He continued his motor analogy by informing that “a car that overheats will burn significantly more fuel, and, not surprisingly, end up at the garage more often”.
The high energy demands of the complex structures make brain cells even more vulnerable as the individual ages, a change which in turn increases their chances of malfunctioning and dying, the result being Parkinson’s disease.
But professor Trudeau believes that field experts can find a way around the neurodegenerative disease. The problem may be that people nowadays live longer lives, however some of the neurons in the human brain simply may not be programmed last 80 or 100 years, so researchers need to find a way to prolong their life.
The findings were published recently, in the medical journal Current Biology.
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