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Scientists gain further insights into cause of Parkinson’s via human brain recordings

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


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