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Parkinson’s disease is a brain condition where cells that produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine are lost in a particular area of our brain. Once 80% of these cells are lost those symptoms that we associate with Parkinson’s disease such as movement disorder and tremor become more apparent.
It’s also a common disorder affecting 2% of those over the age of 65 and 4-5% of those aged 85 years and older.

What hasn’t been known though, is what causes these special brain cells to die. Treatment for Parkinson’s has been targeted at replacing the dopamine that the brain can no longer adequately produce, but this does not address what has caused the loss of these brain cells in the first place.

Researchers have now discovered that a particular brain toxin, which occurs naturally in the brain, may be the missing link.

The brain toxin concerned is called DOPAL. It causes another brain protein, found throughout the brain, called alpha-synuclein, to form clumps. This clumping leads to more DOPAL being produced and this is then linked to causing dopamine producing cells to die.

Hopefully this will provide another small piece in the giant neuroscience jigsaw to help us understand better what causes Parkinson’s disease.

W. Michael Panneton, V. B. Kumar, Qi Gan, William J. Burke, James E. Galvin. The Neurotoxicity of DOPAL: Behavioral and Stereological Evidence for Its Role in Parkinson Disease Pathogenesis. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (12): e15251 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015251

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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