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Why Parkinson’s Disease Patients Aren’t Walking Tall

July 13, 2010

Many of the symptoms of Parkinson disease can be alleviated with drugs that target dompamine, a chemical in the brain that is involved in nerve cell communication and therefore known as a neurotransmitter. However, such drugs do not improve the gait disorders and falls that commonly affect individuals with severe and advanced forms of Parkinson disease. Understanding which nerve cells in the brain are involved in these symptoms of Parkinson disease might provide researchers with new therapeutic targets. In this context, a team of researchers, led by Chantal François and Etienne Hirsch, at Universit© Pierre et Marie Curie “” Paris 6, France, has now determined that the presence of gait disorders in patients with Parkinson disease and in aged monkeys with Parkinson-like disease was associated with loss of nerve cells that produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in a region of the brain known as the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN). Consistent with this, disrupting these nerve cells induced gait and postural deficits in monkeys. The authors therefore suggest that targeting acetylcholine-producing nerve cells in the PPN might provide a way to alleviate the gait disorders and falls experienced by individuals with Parkinson disease.

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