Effects Of Drug Use Gave Insight Into Parkinson's
> 9/21/2007 12:50:53 PM

Every year, about 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a chronic and progressive disorder that cannot be cured. Its symptoms eventually become so severe that individuals suffering from them may be unable to drive, work, or even eat without the help of others. Most cases of Parkinson's disease occur without a known cause, so during the 1980s when drug addicts developed the symptoms of Parkinson's disease after using MPTP, researchers jumped on the opportunity to study parkinsonian symptoms caused by a specific substance. They discovered that MPTP, a synthetic byproduct created during heroin production, destroys cells in a small area of the brain called the substantia nigra (“black substance”). These cells normally create dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the body's ability to control movement. Destruction of these cells causes tremors, rigidity, and slow movements, the principal symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Armed with a chemical that could essentially cause Parkinson's disease, researchers were able to reproduce the disease in animals in an effort to better understand the disease and create more effective treatments. This research eventually led to the development of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), a treatment involving the surgical implantation of a small electrode into the subthalamic nucleus, an area  of the brain that regulates motor control. The electrode connects to a pulse generator, a device similar to a pacemaker, which is surgically placed beneath the collar bone. In most cases, DBS significantly reduces parkinsonian symptoms, and although it does not cure Parkinson's disease, it makes life more manageable for those who suffer form it. Over the past ten years, more than 20,000 Americans have been treated using DBS. Although researchers still aren't sure exactly why the pulse generator works, they believe it blocks abnormal signals that are sent to the brain because of the loss of dopamine. Doctors recommend trying medication before considering surgery as a treatment for Parkinson's disease, but for those experiencing adverse side effects from their medication or who are in the later stages of the disease, when symptoms become more severe and drug-resistant, DBS remains an important treatment option.

Discovering that MPTP could create parkinsonian symptoms inspired incredibly important research, and hopefully researchers will continue to study the effects of Parkinson's disease on the brain in order to develop new treatments and refine current treatments. With an even better understanding of Parkinson's disease, we can continue to develop ways to help those with this debilitating disorders live more productive and fulfilling lives.

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