Parkinson’s Disease occurs when the brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine deteriorate. The result may be shaking and difficulty with walking, movment, and coordination. There is no cure.
It’s sad but true that we learn more in biology when things go wrong than when things go right. If a process is going along normally, we can’t see the parts of that process. But if one or a few parts of the malfunction, suddenly the gaps highlight the missing steps, and we understand the normal process better.
This has happened with the discovery of genes associated with Parkinson’s Disease. Even though only a small percentage of cases of Parkinson’s Disease are caused or exacerbated by gene malfunctions, those genes are enlightening Parkinson’s researchers.
Interestingly, a lot of the genes in question have to do with oxidation and/or waste clean-up in dopamine producing brain cells. Ultimately this information could lead to new treatments for the disease.
If too much of a gene product is gumming up neurons, it could be that stopping or slowing that gene product could prevent the damage. And it could be that even if the gene is normal in some Parkinson’s sufferers, an environmental factor is causing the same problem. In that case, the cure might be similar.
Alternatively, too little of a different gene product might interfere with normal cell clean-up. The resulting waste accumulation could also gum things up. Again, environmental factors could mimic this problem. In either case, some way of supplying the missing molecule(s) might help.
Food for thought. I’ll say more about this in my next post.