Researchers: Parkinson’s makes brain cells burn out

Parkinson's disease affects tens of hundreds of thousands of neurons in a few specific regions of thebrain, causing them to increase their energy consumption and effectively 'burn out'.

Cells in the brain affected by Parkinson’s disease die prematurely because they are prone to burning out “like an overheating motor”, research claims.

Scientists, writing in the journal Current Biology, said they found the cells targeted by the disease require unusually high levels of energy to carry out their job of controlling movement.

Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease for which there is no cure, affects around 9,000 people in Ireland.

The Canadian researchers studied the disease in mice and focused on the role of mitochondria, which enable cells to grow and release chemicals such as dopamine — a compound Parkinson’s sufferers are deficient in.

They found the complex structure of neurons in the substantia nigra region meant mitochondria were constantly working at “burnout rates” and so were more likely to degenerate and die with age.

Lead researcher Louis-Eric Trudeau, a professor at the University of Montreal, said: “Like a motor constantly running at high speed, these neurons need to produce an incredible amount of energy to function. They appear to exhaust themselves and die prematurely. To use the analogy of a motor, a car that overheats will burn significantly more fuel, and, not surprisingly, end up at the garage more often. It’s possible that new medications could be developed to help the neurons in question reduce their energy consumption or produce energy more efficiently, which would reduce accumulated damage over the years.”

Parkinson’s affects tens of hundreds of thousands of neurons in a few specific regions of the brain.


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