As a the result of a new study carried out by researchers at the University of Montreal, it’s now believed that the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s disease die prematurely, literally burning out like an overheating motor.
Neurons require very high quantities of energy in order to carry out their job of regulating movement. Scientists have now uncovered evidence to suggest that the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s disease may be all down to a cellular energy crisis. Just like electric motors which have to constantly run at a high speed, the neurons in the brain have to produce enormous amounts of energy just to function. In Parkinson’s disease, it’s almost as if they exhaust their store of energy, thus causing them to die prematurely.
The results of the study were published in Current Biology, and includes contributions from researchers at both the University of Montreal, Laval University and Ottawa University. Lead researcher, Louis-éric Trudeau, a professor at the Department of Pharmacology and Neurosciences has been studying the part of the brain that causes Parkinson’s for the last 17 years, and his recent findings could lead to the identification of new strategies for treating the disease, and for developing better animal models of Parkinson’s. At the moment it’s still extremely difficult to reproduce Parkinson’s symptoms in mice.
The primary symptoms in Parkinson’s are caused by the death of neurons in certain areas of the brain, including the substantia nigra, the locus ceruleus and the dorsal nucles of the vagus nerve. It’s already known that it’s the mitochondria which provide the energy for cells to grow and for neurons to function, therefore the team have been concentrating their research on establishing why they work so hard and cause the neurons to overheat. Their findings have suggested that the overheating could be as a result of the tree-like structure of the neurons which leaves them particularly vulnerable to malfunction and death.
The team, lead by Trudeau are continuing to explore the reasons for this, with the primary aim of developing a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of the brain, in order to gain new insights into neurological disorders.
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