Getting Closer to a Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

Mitochondria may hold key to future therapies, researchers say

More than 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease (PD), but no effective treatments for the disorder currently exist. A new study from the University of Bergen in Norway suggests that the secret to treating PD may lie in the mitochondria, the “powerhouses” inside cells.

“There is generally very little knowledge about the mechanisms causing Parkinson’s disease,” said lead investigator Dr. Charalampos Tzoulis. “Now we are a step closer to understanding these mechanisms, and we may have a target to strike at for therapy."

The problem appears to be that mitochondria in brain cells are not able to adapt to the effects of aging in people who develop PD. Mitochondria contain their own DNA, which tells them how to build their power generators. “It is known that the DNA of mitochondria is damaged during aging, causing failure in the power generators, lack of energy, and disease," said Tzoulis.

In their study, Tzoulis and his team compared brain cells from healthy aged persons with those from individuals with PD. The researchers found that brain cells of healthy people are able to compensate for age-induced damage by producing more DNA in their mitochondria. This protective mechanism is weakened in individuals with PD, leading to a loss of the mitochondria’s healthy DNA population.

“I believe we have discovered an essential biological mechanism that normally preserves and protects the brain from aging-related damage. Intriguingly, this mechanism appears to fail in persons with Parkinson’s disease, rendering their brains more vulnerable to the effects of aging,” Tzoulis said.

PD attacks the nervous system and is usually diagnosed after the age of 55. Symptoms include trembling or stiffness, and slow movements of the arms or legs.

Source: EurekAlert; January 23, 2017.