Tagged: L-dopa

Helicobacter pylori: Unwanted passengers?

helicobacter-pylori


Whether we like it or not, we house a great deal of microbes.

Many of these tiny creatures aid us in our daily living by conducting important functions. Some of these microbes, however, may not be helping us, getting a free ride, and potentially causing trouble.

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.


yong

Source: ScienceFriday

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).

12-microbes.w710.h473.2x

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 postHelicobacter pylori.

helicobacter-pylori-1

Helicobacter pylori. Source: Helico

Continue reading

Tetrabenazine: A strategy for Levodopa-induced dyskinesia?

Dyk

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.


Dysco

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).

7001127301-6010801

Sinemet is Levodopa. Source: Drugs

Continue reading

Busy day for Parkinson’s – 9/2/2017

 

o-busy-facebook

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.


happens-many-red-blood-cells_891c9a08c6bfe4aa

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…

blood
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-cropped

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.


but-wait

Source: 3rd-Solutions

Like we said at the top, it’s been a busy day for Parkinson’s disease: Good news today for Acorda Therapeutics, Inc.

acordatherapeuticslogo_calogo2306

Source: Acorda

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).

levodopa-inhaler-lead-658x394

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

Inhaling L-dopa

inhaled1

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-56a1c9d85f9b58b7d0c2a735

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).

l-dopa_vzorec-svg

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.

Win 1113

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:

avid

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.

wi_17_olehhornykiewicz_01

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).

 

oleh

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.
PMID: 18591088

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.

50396550-1200x800

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.

dopa3pic-668d0

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.

levodopa-inhaler-lead-658x394

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?

inhaler

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

Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease

xTgKydA8c

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.


Henri_Huchard

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:

Juvenile

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

The Autistic spectrum and Parkinson’s disease

The word Autism on a cork notice board

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:

Autism-title1

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.

Alternative explanations?

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.

Disco-needs-ya – the science of dyskinesias

This is Tom Isaacs. He is the charismatic founder of the Cure Parkinson’s trust.

tom isaacs

Tom Isaacs. Source: GrannyButtons

He’s a dude.

The man walked the entire coastline of the UK to raise money/awareness for Parkinson’s disease! Trust me, he’s a dude.

The title of today’s post is a salute to Tom’s efforts to offer a humourous label to what is a very serious and debilitating aspect of Parkinson’s disease.

In this post, we will discuss the science of dyskinesias


For the last 50 years, Levodopa (L-dopa) has been the “gold standard” treatment for Parkinson’s disease. By replacing the lost dopamine, L-dopa allows for the locomotion parts of the brain to become less inhibited and for people with Parkinson’s disease to feel more in control of their movements.

This miraculous treatment, however, comes at a terrible cost.

After long-term use of the drug, abnormal and involuntary movements can begin to appear. These movements are called dyskinesias.

Dykinesias

An example of a person with dyskinesia. Source: JAMA Neurology

What are Dyskinesias?

Dyskinesias (from Greek: dys/dus – difficulty, abnormal; and kinēsis – motion, movement) are simply a category of movement disorders that are characterized by involuntary muscle movements. They are certainly not specific to just Parkinson’s disease.

In Parkinson’s disease, they are associated with long-term use of L-dopa.

An example of dyskinesia can be seen in this video of Tom Isaacs and David Sangster discussing life with Parkinson’s disease (Tom was diagnosed at age 26 years of age and has lived with Parkinson’s for 20 years – he has dyskinesias. David was diagnosed in 2011 at age 29; since diagnosis he foundered www.1in20Parkinsons.org.uk. He’s also a dude!).

How do dyskinesias develop in Parkinson’s disease?

Before beginning a course of L-dopa, the locomotion parts of the brain in people with Parkinson’s disease is pretty inhibited. This results in the slowness and difficulty in initiating movement. They want to move, but they can’t. They are akinetic.

L-dopa tablets provide the brain with the precursor to the chemical dopamine. Dopamine producing cells are lost in Parkinson’s disease, so replacing the missing dopamine is one way to treat the motor features of the condition. Simply giving people pills of dopamine is a non-starter: dopamine is unstable, breaks down too quickly, and (strangely) has a very hard time getting into the brain. L-dopa, on the other hand, is very robust and has no problem getting into the brain.

Once inside the brain, L-dopa is quickly converted – via an enzymatic reaction – into dopamine allowing the locomotion parts of the brain to function close to normal. In understanding this process, it is important to appreciate that when a tablet is taken and L-dopa  enters the brain, there is a sudden rush of dopamine. A spike in it’s supply, and for the next few hours this gradually wears off as the dopamine is used up. This tablet approach to L-dopa treatment gives a wave like shape to the L-dopa levels in the brain over the course of the day (see the figure below).

After prolonged use of L-dopa (7-10 years on average), the majority of people with Parkinson’s disease will experience a shorter response to each dose of L-dopa. They will also find that they have more time during which they will be unable to move (exhibiting akinesia). This is simply the result of the disease progression – L-dopa treats the motor features of the disease but hides the fact that the disease is still progressing.

This shortening of response is often associated with subtle abnormal involuntary movements that appear when the levels of l-DOPA are highest (usually soon after taking a tablet). It is as if there is too much dopamine for the system to handle.

Gradually, the response time (during which normal movement is possible) will grow shorter and to combat this the dose of L-dopa is increased. But with increased levels of L-dopa, there is an increase in the involuntary movements, or dyskinesias.

Dyskinesia

This figure illustrates the course of Parkinson’s disease for some people on L-dopa. The waving line indicates the level of L-dopa in the blood (as a result of taking L-dopa medication). The white space is the area where normal movement is possible, while the grey area illustrates periods of akinesia (inability to move). Without L-dopa, people with Parkinson’s disease would be stuck in this area, and as the L-dopa pill wears off (during the downward part of the waving line) they fall back into the akinesia area, thus requiring another pill. As the disease progresses, the akinetic (grey) area increases, requiring higher levels of L-dopa to be administered in order to escape it. The tan coloured area in the top right corner demonstrates the introduction of dyskinesias.

Are there different types of dyskinesias?

Yes there are. Dyskinesias have been broken down into many different subtypes, but the two main types of dyskinesia are:

Chorea – these are involuntary, irregular, purposeless, and unsustained movements. To an observer, Chorea will look like a very disorganised/uncoordinated attempt at dancing (hence the name, from the Greek word ‘χορεία’ which means ‘dance’). While the overall activity of the body can appear continuous, the individual movements are brief, infrequent and isolated. Chorea can cause problems with maintaining a sustained muscle contraction,  which may result in affected people dropping things or even falling over.

Dystonia – these are sustained muscle contractions. They often occur at rest and can be either focal or generalized. Focal dystonias are involuntary contractions in a single body part, for example the upper facial area. Generalized dystonia, as the name suggests, are contraction affecting multiple body regions at the same time, typically the trunk, one or both legs, and another body part. The intensity of muscular movements in sufferers can fluctuate, and symptoms usually worsen during periods of fatigue or stress.

When were Dyskinesias first discovered?

Ironically but unsurprisingly, L-dopa induced dyskinesias were first reported by the same scientists who first reported the drug’s amazing effects in Parkinson’s disease:

Dyskinesia_title

Title: Modification of Parkinsonism – chronic treatment with L-dopa.
Authors: Cotzias GC, Papavasiliou PS, Gellene R.
Journal: New England Journal of Medicine. 1969 Feb 13;280(7):337-45.
PMID: 4178641

George Cotzias was one of the first physicians to give L-dopa to people with Parkinson’s disease.

50396550-1200x800

Dr George Cotzias. Source: NewScientist

Cotzias and colleagues administered L-dopa to 28 people with Parkinson’s disease (17 males and 11 females) and observed modest to moderate response in 8 of them, a marked response in 10, and dramatic responses in the other 10 people. During their two year observation period, they also reported seeing involuntary movements (dyskinesias) in half of the subjects in the study (14/28). They ranged from rare and fleeting (eg. grimacing or gnawing and wave-like motions of the head) to severe (eg. full body/limb movements). They noted that the dyskinesias were most severe in the people with the longest duration of the disease.

It should be noted that the speed with which some of the patients (that Cotzias was treating) developed their dyskinesias – less than 2 years – was a reflection on the late stage of the condition at which the treatment was begun. When the administration of L-dopa is started at an earlier stage, the window of effective treatment is generally longer (5-10 years, depending on individual cases).

So what causes the dyskinesias?

Oh boy.

This question is the source of much debate.

Volumes of text have been bashed out and sides have been taken. We are going to have to tread very carefully here for fear of upsetting folks is the world of Parkinson’s research.

There is some agreement, however, that the factors associated with the development of L-dopa-induced dyskinesias include:

  • the duration of the disease
  • the severity of the disease
  • the dose of L-dopa (cue the debating)
  • young age onset

There are also some genetic forms of Parkinson’s disease that can have an impact on the chances of developing dyskinesias.

Duration/severity of the disease – Experimental studies in animal models of Parkinson’s disease indicate that, if L-dopa is given to the animals, involuntary movements will only develop when the loss of dopamine in the brain exceeds 80–85% of normal. Clinical observations, however, indicate that the severe loss of dopamine in the brain is not sufficient for patients to develop dyskinesias.

This has lead to theories regarding intact part of the brain, suggesting that there are changes in the neurons that the dopamine is acting on. And indeed postmortem analysis of brains from people with & without dyskinesias suggests that there are differences in the neurons that dopamine act on (Click here and here for more on this).

The dose of L-dopa – in a large clinical study, the researchers found that an average daily L-dopa dose of 338 mg was not associated with dyskinesias, while an average daily dose of 387 mg was (Click here and here to read more on this).

Young age onset – Given the length of time that people with early-onset Parkinson’s disease will be on L-dopa, there is a strong association between early-onset and dyskinesias.


EDITORIAL NOTE: We are now about to discuss what can be done to alleviate dyskinesias. Before doing so, we here at the Science of Parkinson’s disease would just like to repeat our standard warning that the contents provided on this website is of an informative nature, and no actions should be taken based on what you have read without first consulting your doctor. Please seek medical advice before changing or experimenting with your treatment regime.


And what can be done to alleviate dyskinesias?

There are several methods of reducing dyskinesias:

Reducing L-dopa dose

Obviously, one can lower the dose of L-dopa. This almost always results in a reduction of dyskinesias. BUT, this almost always results in a worsening of Parkinson’s disease motor features, so it can’t really be considered a solution.

Dopamine receptor agonists

Rather than giving the brain L-dopa or dopamine, chemicals that behave exactly like dopamine can be administered. Dopamine receptor agonists are drugs that act on the receptors of dopamine that are present on the cells that dopamine acts on. These drugs have a longer half‐life than levodopa, meaning that they hang around in the brain for longer (eg. they are not broken down or used up as quickly as L-dopa).

In a large double‐blind study that compared the safety and efficacy of a dopamine receptor agonist – ‘Ropinirole’ – with that of levodopa over a period of five years, researchers found that the incidence of dyskinesia (regardless of levodopa supplementation) was 20% in the ropinirole group and 45% in the levodopa-only group (Click here for more on that study, and click here for a similar study with the dopamine agonist pramipexole).

One cautionary note – Dopamine agonists have been associated with the development of compulsive and impulsive behaviours (Click here for more on this).

Drugs acting on NMDA receptors

N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDA receptors) are receptors of the chemical glutamate. They are widely found in the brain, but during dyskinesias they appear to become more abundant. As a result, researchers have used drugs that block NMDA receptors (called NMDA receptor antagonists) as potential treatment for dyskinesias. And they appear to help in many cases.

In a double‐blind, placebo‐controlled study of 18 people with Parkinson’s disease, researchers found that the NMDA receptor antagonist ‘Amantidine’ reduced the duration of L-dopa-induced dyskinesias by 60% (Click here for more on this).

Drugs acting on serotonergic systems

Recently there has been a lot of attention focused on the role in dyskinesias of another chemical in the brain: serotonin. There is significant loss of serotonergic cells and fibres in the brain of people with Parkinson’s disease, though not to the same scale as dopamine.

A recent clinical study investigating the use of drugs that prolong the serotonin floating around in the brain (called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs), found that they did not protect people with Parkinson’s disease from dyskinesias, but may delay their onset (Click here for more on this). There are also clinical trials investigating the use of serotonin receptor agonists in Parkinson’s disease with dyskinesias, based on positive results from preclinical studies (Click here for more on this).

More recently researchers have been investigating the role of serotonin cells in the production of dopamine from L-dopa. Serotonin cells are known to absorb L-dopa and to convert it into dopamine, but they do not have any means of storing it and they release it in an uncontrolled fashion. Recent studies in rodent models of L-dopa-induced dyskinesias have reported reductions in dyskinetic behaviour as a result of lesioning the serotonin cells or blocking specific serotonin receptors. The clinical relevance of these finding is yet to be tested, however.

Neurosurgery

The use of ‘pacemaker’ surgeries (such as deep brain stimulation targeting regions such as the globus pallidum or subthalamic nucleus) have been shown to be effective in treating advanced Parkinson’s disease. The resulting motor improvements are also associated with a reduction in dyskinesias.

A blinded pilot study comparing the safety and efficacy of deep brain stimulation in people with advanced Parkinson’s disease reported a 60-90% reduction in dyskinesias, depending on the region of the brain that was targeted (Click here for more on this).

Surgical lesions targeting the thalamus, globus pallidum or subthalamic nucleus have also been used in the treatment of advanced Parkinson’s disease, with reductions in dyskinesias also being observed. It is effective in both young as well as elderly subjects, with benefit persisting for up to 5 years. These surgical lesion procedures, however, are irreversible.

Recent advances in our understanding

We always like to bring you new research here at the Science of Parkinson’s disease and recently there have been some interesting results published. For example, this one:

Roussakis_title

Title: Serotonin-to-dopamine transporter ratios in Parkinson disease: Relevance for dyskinesias.
Authors: Roussakis AA, Politis M, Towey D, Piccini P.
Journal: Neurology. 2016 Published Feb 26.
PMID: 26920358

The researchers in this study conducted brain imaging on people with Parkinson’s disease who did have dyskinesias (17 people) and did not have dyskinesias (11 people). Specifically they were looking to see the difference in the density of dopamine and serotonin fibres in particular areas of the brain affected by dyskinesias. They found that people with Parkinson’s disease AND dyskinesias had a higher ratio of serotonin fibres to dopamine fibres than people with Parkinson’s disease but no dyskinesias. This result adds further support to the role that serotonin cells are playing in the development of L-dopa-induced dyskinesias.


 

Phew, long post.

If you have got this far and you are still reading – thanks! We hope it was informative.

In (shorter) future posts, we will be assessing new research dealing the mechanisms of and novel ways to treat dyskinesias. This post was meant to be an introduction that we will refer back to from time to time.

Stay tuned!

Diagnosed 2500 years ago? No problem.

Something different for you today – a history lesson…with some science.

The history of Parkinson’s disease dates back well before Dr James Parkinson made his observations about 6 patients 199 years ago (oh, big anniversary coming up! Who knew)

But it may surprise you to know that the history of Parkinson’s disease dates back before even Jesus turned up.

You actually have to go back a long back in order to get to the beginning…


If you were demonstrating the early features of Parkinson’s disease in the year 500 BCE, there was really only one place in the world that you wanted to be:

india-2do290z

India. Source: blogs.umb.edu

Not only did India have a extremely sophisticated system of diagnosis for what we call Parkinson’s disease, but they also have a VERY effective treatment!

Don’t believe me? Read on.

The diagnosis

Around 5000 BCE, the wise and farsighted members of the Indian medical establishment began pooling their collective knowledge – firstly in an oral form, but then eventually in a written format. That written material became the text known as the Ayurveda (/aɪ.ərˈveɪdə/; Sanskrit for “the science of life” or “Life-knowledge”).

It can not be understated how sophisticated the Ayurveda was for its time. This was a period bridging the ‘new stone age’ and the ‘Bronze age’. People’s understanding of medical afflictions was basically limited to what the Gods and evil spirits were doing to them.

The earliest account of Parkinson’s disease features in the Ayurveda  was compiled by Susruta (the 600 BC author of “Susruta Samhita”). He described slowness (cestasanga in Sanskrit) and akinesia (cestahani) in certain individuals, and also (curiously) reported that certain poisons could cause rigidity and tremor.

To demonstrate to you just how sophisticated the Ayurveda was, consider this: when faced with a person exhibiting tremor a practitioner using the Ayurveda could chose between six different types of tremor:

  1. Vepathu (a generalised tremor)
  2. Prevepana (excessive shaking)
  3. Kampa vata (tremors due to vata)
  4. Sirakampa (head tremor)
  5. Spandin (quivering)
  6. Kampana (tremors)

Number 3 (Kampa vata) on that list is what we now refer to as Parkinson’s disease. Kampa basically means ‘tremor’, while Vata is more difficult to define – it is essentially the property/force that governs all movement in the mind and body (blood flow, breathing, etc – even the movement of thoughts).

The treatment

Since the 3rd century BCE, practitioner of the Ayurveda have been using the seeds of Mucuna pruriens in treating conditions of tremor. 

Mucuna-fruit

Mucuna Prurien seeds. Source: Kisalaya

Commonly known as the cowhage plant, Mucuna pruriens are a tropical legume. They are called atmagupta in Sanskrit. Powdered seeds of atmagupta mixed in milk was generally given to treat Kampa vata. And it worked very effectively!

How did it work?

In 1937, a pair of chemist discovered the secret ingredient that allowed Mucuna pruriens seeds to work their magic. 

Mucuna_title
Title: Isolation of l-3:4-dihydroxyphenylalanine from the seeds of Mucuna pruriens.
Authors: Damodaran M, Ramaswamy R.
Journal: Biochem J. 1937 Dec;31(12):2149-52. No abstract available.
PMID: 16746556   (this article is OPEN ACCESS and available to read if you would like)

They found that the seeds contained very high concentrations of a chemical that you and I are familiar with: L-dopa.
Remarkably, Mucuna Pruriens are approximately 4-6% L-dopa, making them mother nature’s natural treatment for Parkinson’s disease. And remember that for over 2000 years, this treatment (atmagupta) has been utilised in the treatment of Kampa vata  in India!

EDITORIAL NOTE: This will probably get me in trouble with the major drug companies, but it would be a worthwhile enterprise for an NGO to set up some Mucuna pruriens plantations in strategically located positions around the world, in order to supply the growing number of people with Parkinson’s disease in the 3rd world. Just a thought. 

How does atmagupta compare with modern L-dopa?

Interesting question.

One that has already been tested:

Katzenschlager_title

Title: Mucuna pruriens in Parkinson’s disease: a double blind clinical and pharmacological study.
Authors: Katzenschlager R, Evans A, Manson A, Patsalos PN, Ratnaraj N, Watt H, Timmermann L, Van der Giessen R, Lees AJ.
Journal: J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Dec;75(12):1672-7.
PMID: 15548480   (this report is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this double blind clinical study, the researchers gave 8 people with Parkinson’s disease with a short duration L-dopa response and dyskinesias single doses of 200/50 mg L-dopa or 15-30 g of mucuna preparation. They gave these treatments in a randomised fashion at weekly intervals. They found that mucuna seed powder formulation had a more rapid onset of action and a longer period without dyskinesias. The researchers concluded that ‘this natural source of L-dopa might possess advantages over conventional L-dopa preparations in the long term management of PD’. A grand conclusion, but they also note that a more long term assessment is required.

And that concludes your history lesson for today – hope you liked it!