Last Spring researchers at the Buck Institute confirmed that Parkinson’s disease (PD) is caused by mitochondria dysfunction in neurons that produce dopamine. This research had only been proven in animal models up until that point.
The Park2 mutation altered mitochondrial structure and function in dopamine producing neurons, causing them to die. Dopamine is an essential neurotransmitter which regulates movement and emotion. Xianmin Zeng, PhD, the lead scientist on the study, reported, “this is the first time we can show a real and observable change in mitochondria in human cells affected by a PD mutation.”
These are hopeful findings for the development of treatments for this incurable disease. Existing drugs can reduce symptoms but can cause involuntary movements, restlessness, confusion, and other troubling side effects over time. “If we can find existing drugs or develop new ones that prevent damage to the mitochondria we would have a potential treatment for PD,” Zeng reports.