Parkinson’s Disease May Start Before Birth, The Experts Say

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Could Parkinson’s disease beginning before birth? A new research absolutely appears to suggest so.

People who develop Parkinson’s disease prior to age 50 may have been born with uncommon brain cells, scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Facility in Los Angeles have revealed. Despite the unusual brain cells which can go unnoticed for years, they might explain why some individuals go on to create young-onset Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s condition is a disorder of the central nerves in which parts of the brain end up being considerably damaged over several years.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s condition takes place in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra when nerve cells, or neurons become impaired or die. Usually, these nerve cells produce an essential brain chemical referred to as dopamine.
Dopamine plays a crucial role in controlling the movement of the body. A decrease in dopamine is in charge of the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:

  • uncontrollable shaking and tremors
  • slow movement (bradykinesia)
  • stiffness in limbs and inflexible muscles

Researchers generated a specific type of stem cell, called iPSC (as induced pluripotent stem cells), from the blood cells of patients with young-onset Parkinson’s disease, a process that takes adult cells “back in time” to a primitive embryonic state. Acting as the body’s master cells, these iPSCs can then produce any cell type of the human body, all genetically identical to the patient’s own cells.

Clive Svendsen, senior author and professor of Biomedical Sciences and Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, said in a statement: “Our technique gave us a window back in time to see how well the dopamine neurons might have functioned from the very start of a patient’s life”.

The team produced dopamine neurons from each individual and used them to study the brain cells in a dish, giving insights into how they work during embryonic growth.

The scientists identified two essential problems in the dopamine neurons from the dish:

  • an accumulation of alpha-synuclein – a protein which occurs in most forms of Parkinson’s disease
  • a malfunctioning lysosomes – cell structures that act as ‘trash cans’ for the cell to break down and dispose of proteins.

This suggests that the build-up of alpha-synuclein proteins starts before birth or at least during embryonic development.

“What we are seeing using this new model are the very first signs of young-onset Parkinson’s,” said Svendsen. “It appears that dopamine neurons in these individuals may continue to mishandle alpha-synuclein over a period of 20 or 30 years, causing Parkinson’s symptoms to emerge.”

The investigators also used their iPSC model to test a number of drugs and they found one that was able to reduce levels of excess alpha-synuclein proteins in dopamine neurons, both in the petri dish and in laboratory mice. The drug, known as PEP005, is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration in a gel form for treating precancers of the skin. However, the team plans to investigate how PEP005 can be delivered to the brain to possibly treat or prevent young-onset Parkinson’s.

“Young-onset Parkinson’s is especially heartbreaking because it strikes people at the prime of life, said Michele Tagliati, vice-chair and professor in the Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai. “This exciting new research provides hope that one day we may be able to detect and take early action to prevent this disease in at-risk individuals.”

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