Ray of hope in treatment of Parkinson’s symptoms

05 Feb 2019 | Back to News, Publications and Annual Reports

Although there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, it is possible to manage many of the symptoms. In this light, BPRC researchers have made an interesting discovery during a study on primates. Their research offers new possibilities for therapies that may improve the quality of life of Parkinson’s patients.

Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the brain. It causes certain brain cells to die off, which in turn leads to reduced production of dopamine. This substance is crucial to proper body movement and motor output control.

Our researchers’ new insights focus on a specific part of the brain called the red nucleus. This red nucleus seems to be able to alleviate Parkinson’s disease in primates and humans.

Red nucleus function

In animals that walk on four legs, the red nucleus controls movement. The structure has a different function in humans. The red nucleus also regulates the crawling movement in babies initially, but other areas of the brain then take over. It is therefore noteworthy that the red nucleus in Parkinson’s patients appears to be enlarged compared to non-patients. This is presumably because the red nucleus has been reactivated and is attempting to compensate for parts of the brain that no longer function properly. Our researchers examined whether the same phenomenon could be observed in primate models of Parkinson’s disease.

Larger nucleus, fewer Parkinson’s symptoms

Their findings proved that animals with a larger red nucleus displayed fewer Parkinson’s symptoms than animals with a smaller red nucleus. In addition, brain stimulation - a method to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease - seemed to increase the size of the red nucleus even more. The study also focused on a part of the red nucleus that mainly occurs in humans and primates. Though a different part of the red nucleus is active in quadrupeds, it is striking to note that these animals can spontaneously recover from Parkinson’s symptoms. This is yet another indication that the red nucleus may be very important.

The key conclusion: certain parts of the brain can (partially) compensate for the effects of damage suffered elsewhere in the brain. Want to know more? Read the full text of the primate study here.