Parkinson’s discovery points to new treatments: New Zealand researchers

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WELLINGTON, Feb. 24 (PNA/Xinhua) — New Zealand researchers said Friday they had made a breakthrough in potential treatments for the debilitating Parkinson’s disease by identifying how it spreads in the brain.

The University of Auckland scientists said they had the first strong evidence that the progressive neurodegenerative condition spread through pathological proteins, known as Lewy bodies, moving from cell to cell.

“Here we have the first proof in cell culture of the mechanism controlling the spread,” research leader Associate Professor Maurice Curtis said in a statement.

“The implication is that if there is a spread of the Lewy bodies in the brain then the spread could be stopped early on,” said Curtis.

“This new mechanism of pathology spread provides us with new targets to go after for development of Parkinson’s disease treatments,” he said.

“The traditional way of thinking about Parkinson’s was that there was a susceptible area in the brain and if you could fix that area then the next most susceptible area would soon be affected. But if the Parkinson’s disease pathology spreads then it may be possible to stop it in its tracks.”

The mechanism that cells used to spread the Lewy bodies was via structures called tunneling nanotubes that acted like conduits between two cells through which large proteins could pass.

“Our work also demonstrated that non-neuronal cells, in this case cells in the blood vessels called pericytes, appear to harbor and spread the Lewy bodies rather than just the neurons,” said Curtis.

“Most literature suggests that Lewy bodies cause the most problems in neurons but this paper proposes blood vessel pericytes to be significant.”

Parkinson’s disease is relatively common, according to the Parkinsonism Society of New Zealand.

About one in 500 people have the condition, and it becomes more common with older age groups, with an estimated 1 percent of people above the age of 60 having the condition.

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