Genetic study points to cells responsible for Parkinson’s disease

Scientists have uncovered new insights into the origins of Parkinson’s disease.

The team, from the UK Dementia Research Institute at Cardiff University and the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre, University of Oxford, studied the genes of more than 6,000 cells from a region deep in the middle of the brain called the substantia nigra, which is where many neurological diseases begin.

In particular, they were interested in the dopaminergic neurons in this region, cells which are known to play a key role in the regulation of movement and cognition and whose loss results in Parkinson’s disease. Up to now, it has been unclear whether immune cells of the brain, the microglia, are responsible for causing the loss of these neurons, as has been observed in Alzheimer’s disease.

The results of this latest study suggest that unlike Alzheimer’s disease, the cause of Parkinson’s disease can be found directly within the dopaminergic neurons. Researchers believe this could be the key to developing new treatments.

Professor Caleb Webber, who led the study and is based at the UK Dementia Research Institute at Cardiff University, said: “This research has huge implications for our understanding of Parkinson’s as it tells us where to look for the problem. With growing recognition of the role of the microglia and subsequent neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s, many scientists have been asking whether neuroinflammation also has a major role in causing Parkinson’s disease too.”

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