Could Dopaminergic Neurons Be Regrown In Parkinson's Patients?

Parkinson's disease is characterised by a loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, but could this loss possibly be reversible? 

We've learnt surprising things about the brain in recent years, uncovering that many regions actually can create new neurons in contrast to the traditional dogma. One research team at Boise University is now suggesting that the brain can actually form new dopaminergic neurons, but that this process is blocked in Parkinson's disease. 

We still don't really know exactly why Parkinson's disease occurs, although there are a number of culprits like inflammation, garbage disposal failure and mitochondrial dysfunction. One thing we do know however, is that there is a catastrophic decline in neurons that produce dopamine - a neurotransmitter essential to movement control among other things. 

A new approach?

'Lewy bodies' (brown) are also observed in neurons in Parkinson's disease

The team in question used a mouse model to determine new dopaminergic neurons were indeed replenished, but that their loss in a model of Parkinson's equalled the rate of renewal. An inflammatory response was found to block neurogenesis, which could explain the degenerative nature of the condition. Regardless of the molecular origins of Parkinsons disease, it is frequently accompanied by neural inflammation; something we also observe in Alzheimer's disease. 

Early days

By using a innovative system to map lineage in dopaminergic cells, the team was able to confirm these were being replenished by particular stem cells. This is potentially exciting news, as such a discovery could open up a new avenue of treatments to encourage regrowth in this region. Perhaps by blocking harmful inflammation, the rate of renewal could be recovered somehow. The research is still speculative at this stage, but it's a welcome development in Parkinson's research. 

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