Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta have been successful in systematically recording
neural activity within the striatum of the human brain.
The striatum is a deep brain structure that’s known to play a major role in both cognitive and motor
function. In Parkinson’s disease, both of these functions are compromised leading to issues with
neuron-firing which in turn affects movement. As a result of this new study, the scientists from the
Yerkes National Primate Research Center now have a better understanding of the pathophysiology
of Parkinson’s, which will ultimately lead to the development of better treatments and preventions.
Almost one million people have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the United States, while it’s
estimated that over 6 million people are living with this chronic and progress neurodegenerative
disorder around the world.
For this particular study, the researchers compared striatal recordings from people with Parkinson’s
and other types of neurological disorder with those from nonhuman primates. In order to obtain
sufficient human recordings, the team conducted a rigorous selection process which took several
years to complete. This ensured that they had the necessary criteria for their study. To correlate
their findings, they compared data obtained from nonhuman primates.
Their findings showed that there were profound changes in the activity of the neurons within the
striatum in Parkinson’s patients. This meant that the striatum played a critical role in the dysfunction
of the circuit. Prior to this study, the circuit models of Parkinson’s had been based on likely changes
in the output of the dopamine-depleted striatum.
The team now plan to continue their investigation of the mechanisms that underlie this abnormal
firing process and to gain a greater understanding of why this happens in the striatal neurons in
Parkinson’s patients. They believe that this is key to developing new treatments for the disease, and
helping to improve the lives of millions of sufferers.
The findings of the study were reported in a recent issue of the online journal Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, and the study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Grants, the NIH Office of Research
Infrastructure Programs and the American Parkinson’s Disease Association Advanced Center for