Recently I discussed my ‘Plan B’ idea, which involves providing a cheap alternative to expensive drugs for folks living in the developing world with Parkinson’s (Click here for that post).
While doing some research for that particular post, I came across another really interesting bit of science that is being funded by Parkinson’s UK.
It involves Beetroot.
In today’s post we will look at how scientists are attempting turn this red root vegetable into a white root vegetable in an effort to solve Parkinson’s in the developing world.
Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Source: NationalGeo
During visits to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii (in Italy), tourists are often drawn by their innocent curiosity to the ‘red light’ district of the city. And while they are there, they are usually amused by the ‘descriptive’ murals that still line the walls of the buildings in that quarter.
So amused in fact that they often miss the beetroots.
I’m not suggesting that anyone spends a great deal of time making a close inspection of the walls, but if you look very carefully, you will often see renditions of beetroots.
They are everywhere. For example:
Two beetroots hanging from the ceiling.
The Romans considered beetroot to be quite the aphrodisiac, believing that the juice ‘promoted amorous feelings’. They also ate the red roots for medicinal purposes, consuming it as a laxative or to cure fever.
And this medicinal angle lets me segway nicely into the actual topic of today’s post. You see, in the modern era researcher are hoping to use beetroot for medicinal purposes again. But this time, the beetroot will be used to solve an issue close to my heart: treating people with Parkinson’s in the developing world.
Using beetroot to treat Parkinson’s?
The motor features of Parkinson’s disease can be managed with treatments that replace the chemical dopamine in the brain.
While there are many medically approved dopamine replacement drugs available for people affected by Parkinson’s disease, there also are more natural sources.
In today’s post we will look at the science and discuss the research supporting one of the most potent natural source for dopamine replacement treatment: Mucuna pruriens
When asked by colleagues and friends what is my ‘plan B’ (that is, if the career in academia does not play out – which is highly probable I might add – Click here to read more about the disastrous state of biomedical research careers), I answer that I have often considered throwing it all in and setting up a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation to grow plantations of a tropical legume in strategic places around the world, which would provide the third-world with a cheap source of levodopa – the main treatment in the fight against Parkinson’s disease.
Plan B: A legume plantation. Source: Tropicalforages
The response to my answer is generally one of silent wonder – that is: me silently wondering if they think I’m crazy, and them silently wondering what on earth I’m talking about.
As romantic as the concept sounds, there is an element of truth to my Plan B idea.
I have read many news stories and journal articles about the lack of treatment options for those people with Parkinson’s disease living in the developing world.
Hospital facilities in the rural Africa. Source: ParkinsonsLife
Some of the research articles on this topic provide a terribly stark image of the contrast between people suffering from Parkinson’s disease in the developing world versus the modernised world. A fantastic example of this research is the work being done by the dedicated researchers at the Parkinson Institute in Milan (Italy), who have been conducting the “Parkinson’s disease in Africa collaboration project”.
The researchers at the Parkinson Institute in Milan. Source: Parkinson Institute
The project is an assessment of the socio-demographic, epidemiological, clinical features and genetic causes of Parkinson’s disease in people attending the neurology out-patients clinic of the Korle Bu Teaching and Comboni hospitals. Their work has resulted in several really interesting research reports, such as this one:
Title: The modern pre-levodopa era of Parkinson’s disease: insights into motor complications from sub-Saharan Africa.
Authors: Cilia R, Akpalu A, Sarfo FS, Cham M, Amboni M, Cereda E, Fabbri M, Adjei P, Akassi J, Bonetti A, Pezzoli G.
Journal: Brain. 2014 Oct;137(Pt 10):2731-42.
PMID: 25034897 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
In this study, the researchers collected data in Ghana between December 2008 and November 2012, and each subject was followed-up for at least 6 months after the initiation of Levodopa therapy. In total, 91 Ghanaians were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (58 males, average age at onset 60 ± 11 years), and they were compared to 2282 Italian people with Parkinson’s disease who were recruited during the same period. In long-term follow up, 32 Ghanaians with Parkinson’s disease were assessed (with an average follow period of 2.6 years).
There are some interesting details in the results of the study, such as:
- Although Levodopa therapy was generally delayed – due to availability and affordability – in Ghana (average disease duration before Levodopa treatment was 4.2 years in Ghana versus just 2.4 years in Italy), the actual disease duration – as determined by the occurrence of motor fluctuations and the onset of dyskinesias – was similar in the two populations.
- The motor fluctuations were similar in the two populations, with a slightly lower risk of dyskinesias in Ghanaians.
- Levodopa daily doses were higher in Italians, but this difference was no longer significant after adjusting for body weight.
- Ghanaian Parkinson’s sufferers who developed dyskinesias were younger at onset than those who did not.
Reading these sorts of research reports, I am often left baffled by the modern business world’s approach to medicine. I am also left wondering how an individual’s experience of Parkinson’s disease in some of these developing nations would be improved if a cheap alternative to the dopamine replacement therapies was available.
Are any cheap alternatives available?
This week a group of scientists have published an article which indicates differences between mice and human beings, calling into question the use of these mice in Parkinson’s disease research.
The results could explain way mice do not get Parkinson’s disease, and they may also partly explain why humans do.
In today’s post we will outline the new research, discuss the results, and look at whether Levodopa treatment may (or may not) be a problem.
The humble lab mouse. Source: PBS
Much of our understanding of modern biology is derived from the “lower organisms”.
From yeast to snails (there is a post coming shortly on a snail model of Parkinson’s disease – I kid you not) and from flies to mice, a great deal of what we know about basic biology comes from experimentation on these creatures. So much in fact that many of our current ideas about neurodegenerative diseases result from modelling those conditions in these creatures.
Now say what you like about the ethics and morality of this approach, these organisms have been useful until now. And I say ‘until now’ because an interesting research report was released this week which may call into question much of the knowledge we have from the modelling of Parkinson’s disease is these creatures.
You see, here’s the thing: Flies don’t naturally develop Parkinson’s disease.
Nor do mice. Or snails.
Or yeast for that matter.
So we are forcing a very un-natural state upon the biology of these creatures and then studying the response/effect. Which could be giving us strange results that don’t necessarily apply to human beings. And this may explain our long history of failed clinical trials.
We work with the best tools we have, but it those tools are flawed…
What did the new research report find?
This is the study:
Title: Dopamine oxidation mediates mitochondrial and lysosomal dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease
Authors: Burbulla LF, Song P, Mazzulli JR, Zampese E, Wong YC, Jeon S, Santos DP, Blanz J, Obermaier CD, Strojny C, Savas JN, Kiskinis E, Zhuang X, Krüger R, Surmeier DJ, Krainc D
Journal: Science, 07 Sept 2017 – Early online publication
The researchers who conducted this study began by growing dopamine neurons – a type of cell badly affected by Parkinson’s disease – from induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells.
What are induced pluripotent stem cells?
This week a biotech company called Voyager Therapeutics announced the results of their ongoing phase Ib clinical trial. The trial is investigating a gene therapy approach for people with severe Parkinson’s disease.
Gene therapy is a technique that involves inserting new DNA into a cell using a virus. The DNA can help the cell to produce beneficial proteins that go on help to alleviate the motor features of Parkinson’s disease.
In today’s post we will discuss gene therapy, review the new results and consider what they mean for the Parkinson’s community.
On 25th August 2012, the Voyager 1 space craft became the first human-made object to exit our solar system.
After 35 years and 11 billion miles of travel, this explorer has finally left the heliosphere (which encompasses our solar system) and it has crossed into the a region of space called the heliosheath – the boundary area that separates our solar system from interstellar space. Next stop on the journey of Voyager 1 will be the Oort cloud, which it will reach in approximately 300 years and it will take the tiny craft about 30,000 years to pass through it.
Where is Voyager 1? Source: Tampabay
Where is Voyager actually going? Well, eventually it will pass within 1 light year of a star called AC +79 3888 (also known as Gliese 445), which lies 17.6 light-years from Earth. It will achieve this goal on a Tuesday afternoon in 40,000 years time.
Gliese 445 (circled). Source: Wikipedia
Remarkably, the Gliese 445 star itself is actually coming towards us. Rather rapidly as well. It is approaching with a current velocity of 119 km/sec – nearly 7 times as fast as Voyager 1 is travelling towards it (the current speed of the craft is 38,000 mph (61,000 km/h).
Interesting, but what does any of that have to do with Parkinson’s disease?
Well closer to home, another ‘Voyager’ is also ‘going boldly where no man has gone before’ (sort of).
In today’s post we will review recent research regarding one particular family of bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, and what they might be doing in relations to Parkinson’s disease.
In his magnificent book, I contain multitudes, science writer/journalist Ed Yong writes that we – every single one of us – release approximately 37 million bacteria per hour. By talking, breathing, touching, or simply being present in the world, we are losing and also picking up the little passengers everywhere we go.
Reminds me of that Pascal Mercier book “Night Train to Lisbon” – We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place,… I’m not sure if this is what he was referring to though.
Yong also points out that: 80% of the bacteria on your right thumb are different to the bacteria on your left thumb.
It’s a fascinating book (and no, I am not receiving any royalties for saying that).
Microbes. Source: NYmag
We have discussed microbes several times on this blog, particularly in the context of the gut and its connection to Parkinson’s disease (Click here, here and here to read some of those posts). Today we are going to re-visit one particular type of microbe that we have also discussed in a previous post: Helicobacter pylori.
Helicobacter pylori. Source: Helico
For many people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, one of the scariest prospects of the condition that they face is the possibility of developing dyskinesias.
Dyskinesias are involuntary movements that can develop after long term use of the primary treatment of Parkinson’s disease: Levodopa
In todays post I discuss one experimental strategy for dealing with this debilitating aspect of Parkinson’s disease.
Dyskinesia. Source: JAMA Neurology
There is a normal course of events with Parkinson’s disease (and yes, I am grossly generalising here).
First comes the shock of the diagnosis.
This is generally followed by the roller coaster of various emotions (including disbelief, sadness, anger, denial).
Then comes the period during which one will try to familiarise oneself with the condition (reading books, searching online, joining Facebook groups), and this usually leads to awareness of some of the realities of the condition.
One of those realities (especially for people with early onset Parkinson’s disease) are dyskinesias.
What are dyskinesias?
Dyskinesias (from Greek: dys – abnormal; and kinēsis – motion, movement) are simply a category of movement disorders that are characterised by involuntary muscle movements. And they are certainly not specific to Parkinson’s disease.
As I have suggested in the summary at the top, they are associated in Parkinson’s disease with long-term use of Levodopa (also known as Sinemet or Madopar).
Sinemet is Levodopa. Source: Drugs
Today there was a lot of Parkinson’s related activity in the news… well, more than usual at least.
Overnight there was the publication of a blood test for Parkinson’s disease, which looks very sensitive. And this afternoon, Acorda Therapeutics announced positive data for their phase three trial.
In this post, we’ll look at what it all means.
Blood cells. Source: Reference.com
Today we found out about an interesting new study from scientists at Lund University (Sweden), where they are developing a test that can differentiate between different types of Parkinsonisms (See our last post about this) using a simple blood test.
We have previously reported about an Australian research group working on a blood test for Parkinson’s disease, but they had not determined whether their test could differentiate between different kinds of neurodegenerative conditions (such as Alzheimer’s disease). And this is where the Swedish study has gone one step further…
Title: Blood-based NfL: A biomarker for differential diagnosis of parkinsonian disorder
Authors: Hansson O, Janelidze S, Hall S, Magdalinou N, Lees AJ, Andreasson U, Norgren N, Linder J, Forsgren L, Constantinescu R, Zetterberg H, Blennow K, & For the Swedish BioFINDER study
Journal: Neurology, Published online before print February 8, 2017
PMID: N/A (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
The research group in Lund had previously demonstrated that they could differentiate between people with Parkinson’s disease and other types of Parkinsonism to an accuracy of 93% (Click here to read more on this). That is a pretty impressive success rate – equal to basic clinical diagnostic success rates (click here for more on this).
The difference was demonstrated in the levels of a particular protein, neurofilament light chain (or Nfl). NfL is a scaffolding protein, important to the cytoskeleton of neurons. Thus when cells die and break up, Nfl could be released. This would explain the rise in Nfl following injury to the brain. Other groups (in Germany and Switzerland) have also recently published data suggesting that Nfl could be a good biomarker of disease progression (Click here to read more on this).
There was just one problem: that success rate we were talking about above, it required cerebrospinal fluid. That’s the liquid surrounding your brain and spinal cord, which can only be accessed via a lumbar puncture – a painful and difficult to perform procedure.
Lumbar puncture. Source: Lymphomas Assoc.
Not a popular idea.
This led the Swedish researchers to test a more user friendly approach: blood.
In the current study, the researchers took blood samples from three sets of subjects:
- A Lund set (278 people, including 171 people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), 30 people with Multiple system atrophy (MSA), 19 people with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), 5 people with corticobasal syndrome (CBS), and 53 people who were neurologically healthy (controls).
- A London set (117 people, including 20 people with PD, 30 people with MSA, 29 people with PSP, 12 people with CBS, and 26 neurologically healthy controls
- An early disease set (109 people, including 53 people with PD, 28 people with MSA, 22 people with PSP, 6 people with CBS). All of the early disease set had a disease duration less than 3 years.
When the researchers looked at the levels of NfL in blood, they found that they could distinguish between people with PD and people with PSP, MSA, and CBS with an accuracy of 80-90% – again a very impressive number!
One curious aspect of this finding, however, is that the levels of Nfl in people with PD are very similar to controls. So while this protein could be used to differentiate between PD and other Parkinsonisms, it may not be a great diagnostic aid for determining PD verses non-PD/healthy control.
In addition, what could the difference in levels of Nfl between PD and other Parkinsonisms tell us about the diseases themselves? Does PD have less cell death, or a more controlled and orderly cell death (such as apoptosis) than the other Parkinsonisms? These are questions that can be examined in follow up work.
Like we said at the top, it’s been a busy day for Parkinson’s disease: Good news today for Acorda Therapeutics, Inc.
They announced positive Phase 3 clinical trial results for their inhalable L-dopa treatment, called CVT-301, which demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in motor function in people with Parkinson’s disease experiencing OFF periods.
We have previously discussed the technology and the idea behind this approach to treating Parkinson’s disease (Click here for that post).
The ARCUS inhalation technology. Source: ParkinsonsLife
Basically, the inhaler contains capsules of L-dopa, which are designed to break open so that the powder can escape. By sucking on the inhaler (see image below), the open capsule starts spinning, releasing the levodopa into the air and subsequently into the lungs. The lungs allow for quicker access to the blood system and thus, the L-dopa can get to the brain faster. This approach will be particularly useful for people with Parkinson’s disease who have trouble swallowing pills/tablets – a common issue.
The Phase 3, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial evaluated the efficacy and safety of CVT-301 when compared with a placebo in people with Parkinson’s disease who experience motor fluctuations (OFF periods). There were a total of 339 study participants, who were randomised and received either CVT-301 or placebo. Participants self-administered the treatment (up to five times daily) for 12 weeks.
The results were determined by assessment of motor score, as measured by the unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale III (UPDRS III) which measures Parkinson’s motor impairment. The primary endpoint of the study was the amount of change in UPDRS motor score at Week 12 at 30 minutes post-treatment. The change in score for CVT-301 was -9.83 compared to -5.91 for placebo (p=0.009). A negative score indicates an improvement in overall motor ability, suggesting that CVT-301 significantly improved motor score.
The company will next release 12-month data from these studies in the next few months, and then plans to file a New Drug Application (NDA) with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States by the middle of the year and file a Marketing Authorization Application (MAA) in Europe by the end of 2017. This timeline will depend on some long-term safety studies – the amount of L-dopa used in these inhalers is very high and the company needs to be sure that this is not having any adverse effects.
All going well we will see the L-dopa inhaler reaching the clinic soon.
The banner for today’s post was sourced from the Huffington Post
For more than 50 years, L-dopa (a critical ingredient used by the brain to produce the chemical dopamine) has been one of the primary therapies used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Over those years, there have been several different versions of L-dopa, providing advantages over previous forms. Last week, the results of clinical trials involving a new inhalable version of L-dopa were published.
In this post we will review the results of those studies.
Inhalers. Source: Verywell
The motor features (a resting tremor in one of the limbs, slowness of movement, and rigidity in the limbs) of Parkinson’s disease begin to appear when most of the dopamine producing neurons in the brain have been lost (specifically, >60% of the midbrain dopamine neurons). Thus for the last 50 years the primary means of treating Parkinson’s disease has been via dopamine replacement therapies.
Why don’t we just inject people with dopamine?
The chemical dopamine has a very difficult time crossing the blood-brain barrier, which is a thick membrane surrounding the brain. This barrier protects the brain from unwanted undesirables (think toxic chemicals), but it also blocks the transfer of some chemicals that exert a positive impact (such as dopamine).
When dopamine is blocked from entering the brain, other enzymes can convert it into another chemical called ‘norepinephrine’ (or epinephrine) and this conversion can cause serious side effects in blood pressure and glucose metabolism.
In addition, any dopamine that does find its way into the brain is very quickly broken down by enzymes. Thus, the amount of time that dopamine has to act is reduced, resulting in a very limited outcome. And these reasons are why doctors turned to L-dopa instead of dopamine in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
What is L-dopa?
Basically, Levodopa (L-dopa) is a chemical intermediary in the production of dopamine. That is to say, you need L-dopa to make dopamine. L-dopa is very stable inside the body and crosses the blood-brain-barrier very easily.
In the UK, a commonly used version is known as ‘Sinemet®‘(produced by Merck).
The chemical structure of L-dopa. Source: Wikipedia
The best way to understand what L-dopa is probably be to explain the history of this remarkable chemical.
The history of L-dopa
Until the 1950s there were few treatment options for Parkinson’s disease, but a young scientist in Sweden was about to change that.
This is Arvid Carlsson.
Prof Arvid Carlsson. Source: Alchetron
He’s a dude.
In 1957, he discovered that when he injected the brains of rabbits with a neurotoxin (reserpine) it killed the dopamine neurons (and the animals exhibited reduced movement). He also discovered that by injecting the dopamine precursor –L-dopa – into those same animals, he was able to rescue their motor ability. Importantly, he found that the serotonin precursor (called 5-hydroxytryptophan) was not capable of reversing the reduction in motor ability, indicating that the effect was specific to L-dopa.
Here is the 1957 report:
Title: 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylalanine and 5-hydroxytryptophan as reserpine antagonists.
Authors: Carlsson A, Lindqvist M, Magnusson T.
Journal: Nature. 1957 Nov 30;180(4596):1200. No abstract available.
PMID: 13483658 (the article on the Nature website – access required)
This was a fantastic discovery. A Nobel prize winning discovery in fact.
But what to do with it?
At the time, we did not know that dopamine was depleted in Parkinson’s disease. And people with Parkinson’s continued to suffer.
It was not until 1960 that the critical discovery of Parkinson’s disease was made by another young European scientist. Carlsson’s research (and that of others) inspired the Austrian researcher, Oleh Hornykiewicz to look at dopamine levels in people with Parkinson’s disease.
And what he found changed everything.
Prof Oleh Hornykiewicz. Source: Kurienwissenschaftundkunst
In his study, Hornykiewicz found very high levels of dopamine in the basal ganglia of normal postmortem adult brains, but a marked and consistent reduction (approx. 10-fold) in six postmortem cases of Parkinsonisms. The basal ganglia is one of the main regions of the brain that dopamine neurons communicate with (releasing dopamine there).
Title: Distribution of noradrenaline and dopamine (3-hydroxytyramine) in the human brain and their behavior in diseases of the extrapyramidal system
Authors: Ehringer H, Hornykiewicz O.
Journal: Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 1998 Aug;4(2):53-7. No abstract available.
Importantly, Hornykiewicz did not stop there.
In November 1960, Hornykiewicz approached Walther Birkmayer, a doctor at a home for the aged in Vienna, and together they began some clinical trials of L-dopa in July 1961. Birkmayer injected 50 to 150 mg intravenously in saline into 20 volunteers with Parkinsonism. In their report, Birkmayer and Hornykiewicz wrote this regarding the results:
“The effect of a single intravenous injection of l-dopa was, in short, a complete abolition or substantial relief of akinesia. Bedridden patients who were unable to sit up, patients who could not stand up when seated, and patients who when standing could not start walking performed after l-dopa all of these activities with ease. They walked around with normal associated movements, and they could even run and jump. The voiceless, aphonic speech, blurred by palilalia and unclear articulation, became forceful and clear as in a normal person. For short periods of time the people were able to perform motor activities, which could not be prompted to any comparable degree by any other known drug”
Despite their initial excitement, Birkmayer and Hornykiewicz found that the response to L-dopa was very limited in its duration. In addition, subsequent trials by others were not able to achieve similar results, with many failing to see any benefit at all.
And that was when George stepped into the picture.
Dr George Cotzias…and yes, he is holding a brain. Source: New Scientist
Dr George Cotzias was a physician working in New York who became very interested in the use of L-dopa for Parkinson’s disease. And he discovered that by starting with very small doses of L-dopa, given orally every two hours and gradually increasing the dose gradually he was able to stabilize patients on large enough doses to cause a dramatic changes in their symptoms. His studies led ultimately to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving the use of L-dopa for use in PD in 1970. Cotzias and his colleagues were also the first to describe L-dopa–induced dyskinesias.
How does L-dopa work?
When you take an L-dopa tablet, the chemical will enter your blood. Via your bloodstream, it arrives in the brain where it will be absorbed by cells. Inside the cells, another chemical (called DOPA decarboxylase) then changes it into dopamine. And that dopamine is released, and that helps to alleviate the motor features of Parkinson’s disease.
The production of dopamine, using L-dopa. Source: Watcut
Outside the brain, there is a lot of DOPA decarboxylase in other organs of the body, and if this is not blocked then the effect of L-dopa is reduced in the brain, as less L-dopa reaches the brain. To this end, people with Parkinson’s disease are also given Carbidopa (Lodosyn) which inhibits DOPA decarboxylase outside of the brain (Carbidopa does not cross the blood-brain-barrier).
How does the L-dopa inhaler work?
The company behind this new product, Acorda Therapeutics, spent many years developing a powdered version of levodopa that could be delivered to the lungs. Early on in this developmental process the scientists realised a problem: while normal asthma inhalers only need to release micrograms of their medicine to the lungs, a L-dopa inhaler would need to deliver 1,000 times more than that to have any effect. The huge amounts were needed to ensure that enough L-dopa would get from the lungs into the brain to be effective. Thus, the ARCUS inhaler delivers 25 to 50 milligrams in two breaths.
The inhaler contains capsules of L-dopa, which are designed to break open so that the powder can escape. By sucking on the inhaler (see image below), the open capsule starts spinning, releasing the levodopa into the air and subsequently into the lungs.
The ARCUS inhalation technology. Source: ParkinsonsLife
Pretty straightforward, right? Nice idea, cool design, easy to use.
But does it work?
What were the results of the clinical trials?
Title: Preclinical and clinical assessment of inhaled levodopa for OFF episodes in Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Lipp MM, Batycky R, Moore J, Leinonen M, Freed MI.
Journal: Sci Transl Med. 2016 Oct 12;8(360):360ra136.
PMID: 27733560 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
In their research report, the scientists provided data from three studies: preclinical, phase one clinical, and phase two clinical. In the preclinical work, they measured the levels of L-dopa in dogs who had inhaled levodopa powder. When they looked at blood samples, they found that levodopa levels peaked in all of the animals 2.5 min after administration. This represented a very quick route to the blood system, as dogs that were given levodopa plus carbidopa orally did not exhibit peak blood levodopa levels until 30 min after administration.
In the phase one (safety) clinical trial, 18 healthy persons were enrolled, and again comparisons were made between inhaled CVT-301 and orally administered carbidopa/levodopa. This study demonstrated that CVT-301 was safe and had a similar rapidity of action as in the preclinical dog study.
Next, the researchers conducted a phase two (efficacy) clinical study. This involve 24 people with Parkinson’s disease inhaling CVT-301 as a single 50mg dose during an OFF episode (periods of no prescribed medication). 77% of the CVT-301 treated subjects showed an increase in plasma levodopa within 10 min. By comparison, only 27% of a group of subjects taking oral doses of carbidopa/levodopa at a 25-mg/100-mg dose achieved the same levels within that time. Improvements in timed finger tapping and overall motor function (as measured by the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale) were observed between 5 and 15 minutes after administration.
The most common adverse event was cough, but all of the coughing events were considered mild to moderate, generally occurring at the time of inhalation. In most cases, they were resolved rapidly and became less frequent after initial dosing.
So what does it all mean?
Inhalation of L-dopa may represent a novel means of treating people with Parkinson’s disease, especially those who struggle with swallowing pills. The most obvious benefit is the speed with which the subjects see results.
The amount of L-dopa being used is very high, however, and we will be interested to see the results of more long term studies before passing judgement on the inhaler approach. We’ll keep you informed as more information comes to hand.
The banner for today’s post is sourced from the BBC
A community in New Brunswick (Canada) was recently shocked to discover that a 2 year old boy in their midst had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (Click here to read more).
Yes, you read that correctly, it’s not a typo: a 2 year old boy.
Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease is an extremely rare version of the condition we discuss here at the Science of Parkinson’s. It is loosely defined as being ‘diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease under the age of 20’. The prevalence is unknown, but there is a strong genetic component to form of the condition. In today’s post we will review what is known about Juvenile-onset and look at new research about a gene that has recently been discovered to cause a type of Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease.
Dr Henri Huchard. Source: Wikipedia
In 1875, Dr Henri Huchard (1844-1910; a French neurologist and cardiologist) described the first case of a child who, at just 3 years of age, presented all the clinical features of Parkinson’s disease. Since that report, there have been many studies detailing the condition that has become known as ‘juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease’.
What is juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease?
Basically, it is a form of Parkinson’s disease that affects children and young people under the age of 20. The defining feature is the age of onset. The average age of onset is approximately 12 years of age (with the majority of cases falling between 7 and 16 years) and males are affected by this condition more than females (at a rate of approximately 5:1).
The actual frequency of juvenile-onset parkinson’s is unknown given how rare it is. When researcher look at people with early onset Parkinson’s disease (that is diagnosis before the age of 40; approximately 5% of the Parkinson’s community), they have found that between 0.5 – 5% of that group of people were diagnosed before 20 years of age. This suggests that within just the Parkinson’s community, the frequency of juvenile-onset parkinson’s is at the most 0.25% (or 2.5 people per 1000 people with Parkinson’s). Thus it is obviously a very rare condition.
It is interesting to note that Lewy bodies (the clusters of aggregated protein that classically characterise the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease) are very rare in cases of juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease. To our knowledge there has been only one case of Lewy bodies in juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease (Click here to read more on this). This suggests that the juvenile-onset form of Parkinson’s disease may differ from other forms of the condition in its underlying biology.
Do we know what causes juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease?
There is a very strong genetic component to juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease. In fact, the incidence of Parkinsonism in relatives of people with juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease is higher than in the general public AND in the relatives of people with other forms of Parkinson’s disease.
Genetic mutations in three genes are recognised as causing juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease. The three genes are known to the Parkinson’s world as they are all PARK genes (genetic variations that are associated with Parkinson’s). Those three genes are:
- Parkin (PARK2)
- PTEN-induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1 or PARK6)
- DJ1 (PARK7)
In juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease, all of these mutations are associated with autosomal recessive – meaning that two copies of the genetic variation must be present in order for the disease to develop.
Parkin mutations account for the majority of juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease cases. Affected individuals have a slowly progressing condition that is L-dopa responsive. Dystonia (abnormal muscle tone resulting in muscular spasm and abnormal posture) is very common at the onset of the condition, particularly in the lower limbs.
Can the condition be treated with L-dopa?
The answer is: ‘Yes, but…’
L-dopa (or dopamine replacement) treatment is the standard therapy for alleviating the motor features of Parkinson’s disease.
The majority of people with juvenile-onset parkinson’s respond well to L-dopa, but in the Parkin mutation version individuals will typically begin to experience L-dopa-induced motor fluctuations (dyskinesias) early in that treatment regime.
What research is currently being done on this condition?
Given that cases are so very rare and so few, it is difficult to conduct research on this population of individuals. Most of the research that is being conducted is focused on the genetics underlying the condition.
And recent that research lead to the discovery of a new genetic variation that causes juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease:
Title: Discovery of a frameshift mutation in podocalyxin-like (PODXL) gene, coding for a neural adhesion molecule, as causal for autosomal-recessive juvenile Parkinsonism.
Authors: Sudhaman S, Prasad K, Behari M, Muthane UB, Juyal RC, Thelma BK.
Journal: Journal Med Genet. 2016 Jul;53(7):450-6.
PMID: 26864383 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
The researchers who wrote this article were presented with a 10 member Indian family from Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. Of the 8 children in the family, 3 were affected by Parkinsonian features (tremor, slowness, rigidity and gait problems) that began between 13 and 17 years of age. The researchers conducted DNA sequencing and found that none of the three affected siblings had any of the known Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease genetic mutations (specifically, mutations in the genes PARK2, PINK1and DJ1).
They then compared the DNA from the three siblings with the rest of the family and found a genetic variant in a gene called podocalyxin-like (or PODXL). It must be noted that PODXL is a completely novel gene in the world of Parkinson’s disease research, which makes it very interesting. PODXL has never previously been associated with any kind of Parkinson’s disease, though it has been connected with two types of cancer (embryonal carcinoma and periampullary adenocarcinoma).
The researchers then turned to their genetic database of 280 people with Parkinson’s disease have had their genomes sequenced. The researchers wanted to determine if any genetic variants in the PODXL gene were present in other suffers of Parkinson’s disease, but had not been picked up as a major contributing factor. They found three unrelated people with PODXL mutations. All three had classical Parkinson’s features, and were negative for mutations in the Parkin, PINK1 and DJ1 genes.
The researchers concluded that the PODXL gene may be considered as a fourth causal gene for Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease, but they indicated that further investigations in other ethnic groups are required.
The banner for today’s post was sourced from ClipArtBest
In August of 2015, groups of scientists from North Carolina and Perth (Australia) published a report together in which they noted the high occurrence of Parkinson’s-like features in aging people with Autism.
In this post we will have a look at what links (if any) there may be between Autism and Parkinson’s disease.
Recent estimates suggest that the prevalence of Autistic Spectrum Disorders in US children is approximately 1.5 %. Autism is generally associated with children, and in this way it is almost a mirror opposite of Parkinson’s disease (which is usually associated with the elderly). A fair number of people who were diagnosed with Autism early in their lives are now reaching the age of retirement, but we know very little about what happens in this condition in the aged.
What is Autism?
This is one of those questions that gets people into trouble. There is a great deal of debate over how this condition should be defined/described. We here at SoPD will chose to play it safe and provide the UK National Health System (NHS)‘s description:
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. In children with ASD, the symptoms are present before three years of age, although a diagnosis can sometimes be made after the age of three. It’s estimated that about 1 in every 100 people in the UK has ASD. More boys are diagnosed with the condition than girls.
Wikipedia also has a very thorough page Autism
So what was reported in the study finding a connection between Autism and Parkinson’s disease?
Last year two groups of researchers (from North Carolina, USA and Perth, Australia) noticed an interesting trend in some of the aging Autistic subjects they were observing.
They published their findings in the Journal of Neurodevelopmental disorders:
Title: High rates of parkinsonism in adults with autism.
Authors: Starkstein S, Gellar S, Parlier M, Payne L, Piven J.
Journal: Journal of Neurodev Disord. 2015;7(1):29.
PMID: 26322138 (This report is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
The article reports the findings of two studies:
Study I (North Carolina) included 19 men with Autism (with an average age of 57 years). When the researchers investigated the cardinal features of Parkinson’s disease, they found that 22 % (N = 4) of the subjects exhibited bradykinesia (or slowness of movement), 16 % (N = 3) had a resting tremor, 32 % (N = 6) displayed rigidity, and 15 % (N = 2) had postural instability issues.
In fact, three of the 19 subjects (16 %) actually met the criteria for a full diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (one of who was already responding well to L-dopa treatment).
Study II (Perth) was a larger study, involving 32 men and 5 women (with an average age of 51 years). 46 % (N = 17) of the subjects in this study exhibited bradykinesia, 19 % (N = 7) had a resting tremor, 19 % (N = 7) displayed rigidity, and 19 % (N = 7) had postural instability problems. In study II, 12 of the 37 subjects (32 %) met the full diagnostic criteria for Parkinson’s disease.
Given this collective result, the researchers concluded that there may well be an increased frequency of Parkinsonism in the aged people with Autism. They emphasize, however, the need to replicate the study before definitive conclusions can be made.
So how could this be happening?
The short answer is: we don’t have a clue.
The results of this study need to be replicated a few times before we can conclusively say that there is a connection. There are, however, some interesting similarities between Autism and Parkinson’s disease, for example (as the NHS mentioned above) males are more affected than females in both conditions.
There are genetic variations that both Parkinson’s and Autism share. Approximately 10-20% of people with Parkinson’s disease have a genetic variation in one of the PARK genes (we have discussed these before – click here to read that post). The genetics of Autism are less well understood. If you have one child with Autism, the risk for the next child also having the condition is only 2-6% (genetically speaking, it should be a 25-50% level of risk).
There are, however, some genes associated with Autism and one of those genes is the Parkinson’s associated gene, PARK2. it has previously been reported that variants in the PARK2 gene (Parkin) in children with Autism (click here for more on this).
It would be interesting to have a look at the brains of aged people with Autism. This could be done with brain scans (DAT-SCAN), but also at the postmortem stage to see if their brains have alpha synuclein clusters and Lewy bodies – the pathological characteristics of Parkinson’s disease. These studies may well be underway – we’ll keep an eye out for any reports.
There are alternative explanations for the connection between Autism and Parkinson’s disease suggested by this study. For example, 36 of the 56 subjects involved in the two studies were on medication for their Autism (the medication is called neuroleptics). Those medications did not appear to explain the rates of parkinsonism in either study (after excluding subjects currently on neuroleptic medications, the frequency of parkinsonism was still 20 %). Most of the subjects in both studies have been prescribed neuroleptics at some point in their lives. Thus it is possible that long-term use of neuroleptics may have had the effect of increasing the risk for parkinsonism later in life. This is pure speculation, however, and yet to be tested. Any future studies would need to investigate this as a possibility.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or loved one on the Autism spectrum, it is important to understand that the study summarised here are novel results that are yet to be replicated. And if it turns out that adults with Autism do have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease it does not necessarily mean that they will – simply that they are at greater risk than normal. It is best to consult a medical practitioner if you have further concerns.
The banner at the today’s post was sourced from Sailing Autistic Seas.