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How the brain activity of Parkinson’s patients changes over time

Researchers have found a way to track neural changes which could help them to develop new therapies to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease. By peering into the brains of people with the disease and other similar conditions, the team from the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology at the University of Florida were able to observe how the neural responses of these people changed over time. It’s hoped that these results may help scientists to develop a new tool to test novel medications to both alleviate the symptoms of such diseases, and slow down the rate at which they cause damage to the brain.

In Parkinson’s disease the neurons in the brain that are responsible for controlling movement are destroyed. Currently no treatments are available that can prevent the destruction of these cells. The study, which was funded by NIH’s Parkinson’s Disease Biomarkers Program, paves the way for new treatments by providing researchers with a tool to assess whether a particular drug can slow or even prevent the progression of the disease within the brain. Furthermore, it takes us one step closer to developing treatments that can have a positive impact on the causes of the disease, and not merely its symptoms.

The research team measured the activity in specific brain areas using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The study participants comprised healthy control patients, individuals with Parkinson’s and patients with two forms of atypical Parkinsonism, whose symptoms were similar to those of Parkinson’s. In order to determine which brain regions to concentrate on, the researchers used the results of past studies into people with these conditions. Each participant had two scans taken a year apart. They also completed a grip strength test at the same time.

After one year, the healthy control group showed no changes in their neural activity. However, the individuals with Parkinson’s exhibited a reduction in the responses from two specific brain regions, the primary motor cortex and the putamen. While previous studies have shown that there is a reduction of activity in the primary motor cortex in people with Parkinson’s, this is the first time a study has suggested that this gets worse over time. Reduction in activity in the primary motor cortex and the superior cerebellum was also seen in the people with atypical Parkinsonism.

As a result of their findings, the team now plan to use these newly discovered biomarkers to see whether an experimental medication which improves the symptoms of Parkinson’s, may also be able to slow down the progression of the disease.

The results of the study were published in a recent edition of the online journal Neurology.

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