DBS2.0: Look mum, no electrodes!

DBS


Deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure that can provide immediate motor-related benefits to people with Parkinson’s disease.

The approach involves placing electrodes deep inside the brain. This procedure requires invasive surgery and there are no guarantees that it will actually work for everybody.

Recently, researchers at MIT have devised a new technique that could one day allow for a new kind of deep brain stimulation – one without the electrodes and surgery.

In today’s post we will review the science behind deep brain stimulation and the research leading to non-invasive deep brain stimulation.


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Source: Youtube

In 2002, deep brain stimulation (or DBS) was granted approval for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The historical starting point for this technology, however, dates quite far back…

Further back than many of you may be thinking actually…

In his text “Compositiones medicamentorum” (46 AD), Scribonius Largo, head physician of the Roman emperor Claudius, first suggested using pulses of electricity to treat afflictions of the mind.

Caludius

Roman emperor Claudius. Source: Travelwithme

He proposed that the application of the electric ray (Torpedo nobiliana) on to the cranium could be a beneficial remedy for headaches (and no, I’m not kidding here – this was high tech at the time!).

800px-Atlantic_torpedo_(_Torpedo_nobiliana_)

Torpedo nobiliana. Source: Wikipedia

These Atlantic fish are known to be very capable of producing an electric discharge (approximately 200 volts). The shock is quite severe and painful – the fish get their name from the Latin “torpere,” meaning to be stiffened or paralysed, referring specifically to the response of those who try to pick these fish up – but the shock is not fatal.

Now, whether Largo was ever actually allowed to apply this treatment to the august ruler is unknown, and beyond the point. What matters here is that physicians have been considering and using this approach for a long time. And more recently, the application of it has become more refined.

What is deep brain stimulation?

The modern version of deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure in which electrodes are implanted into the brain. It is used to treat a variety of debilitating symptoms, particularly those associated with Parkinson’s disease, such as tremor, rigidity, and walking problems.

Continue reading “DBS2.0: Look mum, no electrodes!”

Improving the SoPD blog 2017 – any thoughts/suggestions?

improve-yourself1

Every six months or so, I put up a post asking for feedback/thoughts/suggestions on the style/content of the site. Or requests for any special topics readers would like to read.

In this post, I also try to provide some insight as to how the website is going and what is happening behind the scenes. 

The whole point of this particular post is to provide an opportunity to you the reader to help improve the site – any and all suggestions are welcomed.


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The State of the Blog address. Source: Tngop

So lets begin with where things are at present.

The state of the blog:

The blog has been running since the 9th September, 2015. There are currently 155 individual posts (64 this year) dealing with all manner of Parkinson’s disease research-related content (for the full list, please see the site map page).

I have had some readers ask about how much traffic is visiting the site on a regular basis and in the interest of full transparency blah-blah-blah: the site is currently receiving about 3,000 visitors per week. Curiously, Mondays receive the most views (approximately 21% of visitors), and 8pm is the busiest time of each day for the site (approximately 12% of views – is nothing on TV on Mondays nights?).

Continue reading “Improving the SoPD blog 2017 – any thoughts/suggestions?”

The Llama-nation of Parkinson’s disease

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The clustering of a protein called alpha synuclein is one of the cardinal features of the brain of a person with Parkinson’s disease.

Recently published research has demonstrated that tiny antibodies (called nanobodies) derived from llamas (yes, llamas) are very effective at reducing this clustering of alpha synuclein in cell culture models of Parkinson’s disease. 

In today’s post, we will discuss the science, review the research and consider what it could all mean for Parkinson’s disease.


other-spit-long-farm-llama-animals-alpacas-alpaca-neck-animal-soft-furry-llamas-happy-picture-water-1366x768

Llama. Source: Imagesanimals

Ok, I confess: This post has been partly written purely because I really like llamas. And I’m not ashamed to admit it either.

I mean, look at them! They are fantastic:

llamas-and-haircuts-prince-harry1

Source: Vogue

Very cute. But what does this have to do with Parkinson’s disease?

Indeed. Let’s get down to business.

This post has also been written because llamas have a very interesting biological characteristic that is now being exploited in many areas of medical research, including for Parkinson’s disease.

Continue reading “The Llama-nation of Parkinson’s disease”

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).

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Sinemet is Levodopa. Source: Drugs

Continue reading “Tetrabenazine: A strategy for Levodopa-induced dyskinesia?”

Glutathione – Getting the k’NAC’k of Parkinson’s disease

NAC

The image above presents a ‘before treatment’ (left) and ‘after treatment’ (right) brain scan image from a recent research report of a clinical study that looked at the use of Acetylcysteine (also known as N-acetylcysteine or simply NAC) in Parkinson’s disease.

DaTscan brain imaging technique allows us to look at the level of dopamine processing in an individual’s brain. Red areas representing a lot; blue areas – not so much. The image above represents a rather remarkable result and it certainly grabbed our attention here at the SoPD HQ (I have never seen anything like it!).

In today’s post, we will review the science behind this NAC and discuss what is happening with ongoing clinical trials.


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Source: The Register

Let me ask you a personal question:

Have you ever overdosed on Paracetamol?

Regardless of your answer to that question, one of the main treatments for Paracetamol overdose is administration of a drug called ‘Acetylcysteine’.

Why are you telling me this?

Because acetylcysteine is currently being assessed as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Oh I see. Tell me more. What is acetylcysteine?

Acetylcysteine-2D-skeletalAcetylcysteine. Source: Wikimedia

Acetylcysteine (N-acetylcysteine or NAC – commercially named Mucomyst) is a prodrug – that is a compound that undergoes a transformation when ingested by the body and then begins exhibiting pharmacological effects. Acetylcysteine serves as a prodrug to a protein called L-cysteine, and – just as L-dopa is an intermediate in the production of dopamine – L-cysteine is an intermediate in the production of another protein called glutathione.

Take home message: Acetylcysteine allows for increased production of Glutathione.

What is glutathione?

Glutathione-from-xtal-3D-balls

Glutathione. Source: Wikipedia

Glutathione (pronounced “gloota-thigh-own”) is a tripeptide (a string of three amino acids connected by peptide bonds) containing the amino acids glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine. It is produced naturally in nearly all cells. In the brain, glutathione is concentrated in the helper cells (called astrocytes) and also in the branches of neurons, but not in the actual cell body of the neuron.

It functions as a potent antioxidant.

Continue reading “Glutathione – Getting the k’NAC’k of Parkinson’s disease”

The omnigenics of Parkinson’s disease?

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One of the most common observations that people make when they attend a Parkinson’s disease support group meeting is the huge variety of symptoms between sufferers.

Some people affected by this condition are more tremor dominant, while others have more pronounced gait (or walking) issues. In addition, some people have an early onset version, while others has a very later onset. What could explain this wide range of features?

A group of Stanford researchers have recently proposed an interesting new idea regarding our understanding of genetics that could partly explain some of this variability. In todays post I speculate on whether their idea could be applied to Parkinson’s disease.


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Source: Discover

Earlier this year an interesting study was published in the prestigious journal Nature on the topic of the genetics of height (yes height. Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this):

Nature
Title: Rare and low-frequency coding variants alter human adult height
Authors: Marouli E, Graff M, Medina-Gomez C, Lo KS, Wood AR, Kjaer TR, Fine RS, Lu Y, Schurmann C,………at least 200 additional authors have been deleted here in order to save some space…….EPIC-InterAct Consortium; CHD Exome+ Consortium; ExomeBP Consortium; T2D-Genes Consortium; GoT2D Genes Consortium; Global Lipids Genetics Consortium; ReproGen Consortium; MAGIC Investigators, Rotter JI, Boehnke M, Kathiresan S, McCarthy MI, Willer CJ, Stefansson K, Borecki IB, Liu DJ, North KE, Heard-Costa NL, Pers TH, Lindgren CM, Oxvig C, Kutalik Z, Rivadeneira F, Loos RJ, Frayling TM, Hirschhorn JN, Deloukas P, Lettre G.
Journal: Nature. 2017 Feb 9;542(7640):186-190.
PMID: 28146470

In this study, the researchers – who are part of the GIANT consortium – were analysing DNA collected from over 700,000 people and trying to determine what genetic differences could influence height.

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Height is not important for music. Source: Imgur

Why study height?

Good question. There are several reasons:

Firstly, it is easy to accurately measure. Second, the researchers believed that if we can master the complex genetics of something simple like height maybe what we learn will give us a blueprint for how we should study more complex medical disorders that have thus far eluded our complete understanding.

Continue reading “The omnigenics of Parkinson’s disease?”

The autoimmunity of Parkinson’s disease?

Auto

In this post we discuss several recently published research reports suggesting that Parkinson’s disease may be an autoimmune condition. “Autoimmunity” occurs when the defence system of the body starts attacks the body itself.

This new research does not explain what causes of Parkinson’s disease, but it could explain why certain brain cells are being lost in some people with Parkinson’s disease. And such information could point us towards novel therapeutic strategies.


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The first issue of Nature. Source: SimpleWikipedia

The journal Nature was first published on 4th November 1869, by Alexander MacMillan. It hoped to “provide cultivated readers with an accessible forum for reading about advances in scientific knowledge.” It has subsequently become one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, with an online readership of approximately 3 million unique readers per month (almost as much as we have here at the SoPD).

Each Wednesday afternoon, researchers around the world await the weekly outpouring of new research from Nature. And this week a research report was published in Nature that could be big for the world of Parkinson’s disease. Really big!

On the 21st June, this report was published:

Nature
Title: T cells from patients with Parkinson’s disease recognize α-synuclein peptides
Authors: Sulzer D, Alcalay RN, Garretti F, Cote L, Kanter E, Agin-Liebes J, Liong C, McMurtrey C, Hildebrand WH, Mao X, Dawson VL, Dawson TM, Oseroff C, Pham J, Sidney J, Dillon MB, Carpenter C, Weiskopf D, Phillips E, Mallal S, Peters B, Frazier A, Lindestam Arlehamn CS, Sette A
Journal: Nature. 2017 Jun 21. doi: 10.1038/nature22815.
PMID: 28636593

In their study, the investigators collected blood samples from 67 people with Parkinson’s disease and from 36 healthy patients (which were used as control samples). They then exposed the blood samples to fragments of proteins found in brain cells, including fragments of alpha synuclein – this is the protein that is so closely associated with Parkinson’s disease (it makes regular appearances on this blog).

What happened next was rather startling: the blood from the Parkinson’s patients had a strong reaction to two specific fragments of alpha synuclein, while the blood from the control subjects hardly reacted at all to these fragments.

In the image below, you will see the fragments listed along the bottom of the graph (protein fragments are labelled with combinations of alphabetical letters). The grey band on the plot indicates the two fragments that elicited a strong reaction from the blood cells – note the number of black dots (indicating PD samples) within the band, compared to the number of white dots (control samples). The numbers on the left side of the graph indicate the number of reacting cells per 100,000 blood cells.

Table1

Source: Nature

The investigators concluded from this experiment that these alpha synuclein fragments may be acting as antigenic epitopes, which would drive immune responses in people with Parkinson’s disease and they decided to investigate this further.

Continue reading “The autoimmunity of Parkinson’s disease?”

On the hunt: Parkure

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This is Lysimachos.

Pronounced: “Leasing ma horse (without the R)” – his words not mine.

He is one of the founders of an Edinburgh-based biotech company called “Parkure“.

In today’s post, we’ll have a look at what the company is doing and what it could mean for Parkinson’s disease.


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Source: Parkure

The first thing I asked Dr Lysimachos Zografos when we met was: “Are you crazy?”

Understand that I did not mean the question in a negative or offensive manner. I asked it in the same way people ask if Elon Musk is crazy for starting a company with the goal of ‘colonising Mars’.

In 2014, Lysimachos left a nice job in academic research to start a small biotech firm that would use flies to screen for drugs that could be used to treat Parkinson’s disease. An interesting idea, right? But a rather incredible undertaking when you consider the enormous resources of the competition: big pharmaceutical companies. No matter which way you look at this, it has the makings of a real David versus Goliath story.

But also understand this: when I asked him that question, there was a strong element of jealousy in my voice.

Logo_without_strapline_WP

Incorporated in October 2014, this University of Edinburgh spin-out company has already had an interesting story. Here at the SoPD, we have been following their activities with interest for some time, and decided to write this post to make readers aware of them.

Continue reading “On the hunt: Parkure”

Cholesterol, statins, and Parkinson’s disease

Eraser deleting the word Cholesterol

A new research report looking at the use of cholesterol-reducing drugs and the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease has just been published in the scientific journal Movement disorders.

The results of that study have led to some pretty startling headlines in the media, which have subsequently led to some pretty startled people who are currently taking the medication called statins.

In todays post, we will look at what statins are, what the study found, and discuss what it means for our understanding of Parkinson’s disease.


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Cholesterol forming plaques (yellow) in the lining of arteries. Source: Healthguru

Cholesterol gets a lot of bad press.

Whether it’s high and low, the perfect balance of cholesterol in our blood seems to be critical to our overall health and sense of wellbeing. At least that is what we are constantly being told this by media and medical professionals alike.

But ask yourself this: Why? What exactly is cholesterol?

Good question. What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol (from the Greek ‘chole‘- bile and ‘stereos‘ – solid) is a waxy substance that is circulating our bodies. It is generated by the liver, but it is also found in many foods that we eat (for example, meats and egg yolks).

cholesterol-svg

The chemical structure of Cholesterol. Source: Wikipedia

Cholesterol falls into one of three major classes of lipids – those three classes of lipids being TriglyceridesPhospholipids and Steroids (cholesterol is a steroid). Lipids are major components of the cell membranes and thus very important. Given that the name ‘lipids’ comes from the Greek lipos meaning fat, people often think of lipids simply as fats, but fats more accurately fall into just one class of lipids (Triglycerides).

Like many fats though, cholesterol dose not dissolve in water. As a result, it is transported within the blood system encased in a protein structure called a lipoprotein.

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The structure of a lipoprotein; the purple C inside represents cholesterol. Source: Wikipedia

Lipoproteins have a very simple classification system based on their density:

  • very low density lipoprotein (VLDL)
  • low density lipoprotein (LDL)
  • intermediate density lipoprotein (IDL)
  • high density lipoprotein (HDL).

Now understand that all of these different types of lipoproteins contain cholesterol, but they are carrying it to different locations and this is why some of these are referred to as good and bad.

The first three types of lipoproteins carry newly synthesised cholesterol from the liver to various parts of the body, and thus too much of this activity would be bad as it results in an over supply of cholesterol clogging up different areas, such as the arteries.

LDLs, in particular, carry a lot of cholesterol (with approximately 50% of their contents being cholesterol, compared to only 20-30% in the other lipoproteins), and this is why LDLs are often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’. High levels of LDLs can result in atherosclerosis (or the build-up of fatty material inside your arteries).

Progressive and painless, atherosclerosis develops as cholesterol silently and slowly accumulates in the wall of the artery, in clumps that are called plaques. White blood cells stream in to digest the LDL cholesterol, but over many years the toxic mess of cholesterol and cells becomes an ever enlarging plaque. If the plaque ever ruptures, it could cause clotting which would lead to a heart attack or stroke.

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Source: MichelsonMedical

So yeah, some lipoproteins can be considered bad.

HDLs, on the other hand, collects cholesterol and other lipids from cells around the body and take them back to the liver. And this is why HDLs are sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol” because higher concentrations of HDLs are associated with lower rates of atherosclerosis progression (and hopefully regression).

But why is cholesterol important?

While cholesterol is usually associated with what is floating around in your bloodstream, it is also present (and very necessary) in every cell in your body. It helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids that help you digest fat.

It is particularly important for your brain, which contains approximately 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body. Numerous neurodegenerative conditions are associated with cholesterol disfunction (such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease – Click here for more on this). In addition, low levels of cholesterol is associated with violent behaviour (Click here to read more about this).

Are there any associations between cholesterol and Parkinson’s disease?

The associations between cholesterol and Parkinson’s disease is a topic of much debate. While there have been numerous studies investigating cholesterol levels in blood in people with Parkinson’s disease, the results have not been consistent (Click here for a good review on this topic).

Rather than looking at cholesterol directly, a lot of researchers have chosen to focus on the medication that is used to treat high levels of cholesterol – a class of drugs called statins.

Gao

Title: Prospective study of statin use and risk of Parkinson disease.
Authors: Gao X, Simon KC, Schwarzschild MA, Ascherio A.
Journal: Arch Neurol. 2012 Mar;69(3):380-4.
PMID: 22410446              (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study the researchers conduced a prospective study involving the medical details of 38 192 men and 90 874 women from two huge US databases: the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS).

NHS study was started in 1976 when 121,700 female registered nurses (aged 30 to 55 years) completed a mailed questionnaire. They provided an overview of their medical histories and health-related behaviours. The HPFS study was established in 1986, when 51,529 male health professionals (40 to 75 years) responded to a similar questionnaire. Both the NHS and the HPFS send out follow-up questionnaires every 2 years.

By analysing all of that data, the investigators found 644 cases of Parkinson’s disease (338 women and 306 men). They noticed that the risk of Parkinson’s disease was approximately 25% lower among people currently taking statins when compared to people not using statins. And this association was significant in statin users younger than 60 years of age (P = 0.02).

What are statins?

Also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, statins are a class of drug that inhibits/blocks an enzyme called 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase.

HMG-CoA reductase is the key enzyme regulating the production of cholesterol from mevalonic acid in the liver. By blocking this process statins help lower the total amount of cholesterol available in your bloodstream.

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Source: Myelomacrowd

Statins are used to treat hypercholesterolemia (also called dyslipidemia) which is high levels of cholesterol in the blood. And they are one of the most widely prescribed classes of drugs currently available, with approximately 23 percent of adults in the US report using statin medications (Source).

Now, while the study above found an interesting association between statin use and a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, the other research published on this topic has not been very consistent. In fact, a review in 2009 found a significant associations between statin use and lower risk of Parkinson’s disease was observed in only two out of five prospective studies (Click here to see that review).

New research published this week has attempted to clear up some of that inconsistency, by starting with a huge dataset and digging deep into the numbers.

So what new research has been published?

Statins

Title: Statins may facilitate Parkinson’s disease: Insight gained from a large, national claims database
Authors: Liu GD, Sterling NW, Kong L, Lewis MM, Mailman RB, Chen H, Leslie D, Huang X
Journal: Movement Disorder, 2017 Jun;32(6):913-917.
PMID: 28370314

Using the MarketScan Commercial Claims and Encounters database which catalogues the healthcare use and medical expenditures of more than 50 million employees and their family members each year, the researcher behind that study identified 30,343,035 individuals that fit their initial criteria (that being “all individuals in the database who had 1 year or more of continuous enrolment during January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2012, and were 40 years of age or older at any time during their enrolment”). From this group, the researcher found a total of 21,599 individuals who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

In their initial analysis, the researchers found that Parkinson’s disease was positively associated with age, male gender, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and usage of cholesterol-lowering drugs (both statins and non-statins). The condition was negatively associated with hyperlipidemia (or high levels of cholesterol). This result suggests not only that people with higher levels of cholesterol have a reduced chance of developing Parkinson’s disease, but taking medication to lower cholesterol levels may actually increase ones risk of developing the condition.

One interesting finding in the data was the effect that different types of statins had on the association.

Statins can be classified into two basic groups: water soluble (or hydrophilic) and lipid soluble (or lipophilic) statins. Hydrophilic molecule have more favourable interactions with water than with oil, and vice versa for lipophilic molecules.

wataer_oil

Hydrophilic vs lipophilic molecules. Source: Riken

Water soluble (Hydrophilic) statins include statins such as pravastatin and rosuvastatin; while all other available statins (eg. atorvastatin, cerivastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin and simvastatin) are lipophilic.

In this new study, the researchers found that the association between statin use and increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease was more pronounced for lipophilic statins (a statistically significant 58% increase – P < 0.0001), compared to hydrophilic statins (a non-significant 19% increase – P = 0.25). One possible explanation for this difference is that lipophilic statins (like simvastatin and atorvastatin) cross the blood-brain barrier more easily and may have more effect on the brain than hydrophilic ones.

The investigators also found that this association was most robust during the initial phase of statin treatment. That is to say, the researchers observed a 82% in risk of PD within 1 year of having started statin treatment, and only a 37% increase five years after starting statin treatment.; P < 0.0001). Given this finding, the investigators questioned whether statins may be playing a facilitatory role in the development of Parkinson’s disease – for example, statins may be “unmasking” the condition during its earliest stages.

So statins are bad then?

Can I answer this question with a diplomatic “I don’t know”?

It is difficult to really answer that question based on the results of just this one study. This is mostly because this new finding is in complete contrast to a lot of experimental research over the last few years which has shown statins to be neuroprotective in many models of Parkinson’s disease. Studies such as this one:

statins
Title: Simvastatin inhibits the activation of p21ras and prevents the loss of dopaminergic neurons in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Ghosh A, Roy A, Matras J, Brahmachari S, Gendelman HE, Pahan K.
Journal: J Neurosci. 2009 Oct 28;29(43):13543-56.
PMID: 19864567              (This study is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the researchers found that two statins (pravastatin and simvastatin – one hydrophilic and one lipophilic, respectively) both exhibited the ability to suppress the response of helper cells in the brain (called microglial) in a neurotoxin model of Parkinson’s disease. This microglial suppression resulted in a significant neuroprotective effect on the dopamine neurons in these animals.

Another study found more Parkinson’s disease relevant effects from statin treatment:

Synau

TItle: Lovastatin ameliorates alpha-synuclein accumulation and oxidation in transgenic mouse models of alpha-synucleinopathies.
Authors: Koob AO, Ubhi K, Paulsson JF, Kelly J, Rockenstein E, Mante M, Adame A, Masliah E.
Journal: Exp Neurol. 2010 Feb;221(2):267-74.
PMID: 19944097            (This study is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the researchers treated two different types of genetically engineered mice (both sets of mice produce very high levels of alpha synuclein – the protein closely associated with Parkinson’s disease) with a statin called lovastatin. In both groups of alpha synuclein producing mice, lovastatin treatment resulted in significant reductions in the levels of cholesterol in their blood when compared to the saline-treated control mice. The treated mice also demonstrated a significant reduction in levels of alpha synuclein clustering (or aggregation) in the brain than untreated mice, and this reduction in alpha synuclein accumulation was associated with a lessening of pathological damage in the brain.

So statins may not be all bad?

One thing many of these studies fail to do is differentiate between whether statins are causing the trouble (or benefit) directly or whether simply lowering cholesterol levels is having a negative impact. That is to say, do statins actually do something else? Other than lowering cholesterol levels, are statins having additional activities that could cause good or bad things to happen?

 

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Source: Liverissues

The recently published study we are reviewing in this post suggested that non-statin cholesterol medication is also positively associated with developing Parkinson’s disease. Thus it may be that statins are not bad, but rather the lowering of cholesterol levels that is. This raises the question of whether high levels of cholesterol are delaying the onset of Parkinson’s disease, and one can only wonder what a cholesterol-based process might be able to tell us about the development of Parkinson’s disease.

If the findings of this latest study are convincingly replicated by other groups, however, we may need to reconsider the use of statins not in our day-to-day clinical practice. At the very least, we will need to predetermine which individuals may be more susceptible to developing Parkinson’s disease following the initiation of statin treatment. It would actually be very interesting to go back to the original data set of this new study and investigate what addition medical features were shared between the people that developed Parkinson’s disease after starting statin treatment. For example, were they all glucose intolerant? One would hope that the investigators are currently doing this.

Are Statins currently being tested in the clinic for Parkinson’s disease?

(Oh boy! Tough question) Yes, they are.

There is currently a nation wide study being conducted in the UK called PD STAT.

PDSTATLogo_Large

The study is being co-ordinated by the Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust (Devon). For more information, please see their website or click here for the NHS Clinical trials gateway website.

Is this dangerous given the results of the new research study?

(Oh boy! Even tougher question!)

Again, we are asking this question based on the results of one recent study. Replication with independent databases is required before definitive conclusions can be made.

There have, however, been previous clinical studies of statins in neurodegenerative conditions and these drugs have not exhibited any negative effects (that I am aware of). In fact, a clinical trial for multiple sclerosis published in 2014 indicated some positive results for sufferers taking simvastatin:

MS-STAT
Title: Effect of high-dose simvastatin on brain atrophy and disability in secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS-STAT): a randomised, placebo-controlled, phase 2 trial.
Authors: Chataway J, Schuerer N, Alsanousi A, Chan D, MacManus D, Hunter K, Anderson V, Bangham CR, Clegg S, Nielsen C, Fox NC, Wilkie D, Nicholas JM, Calder VL, Greenwood J, Frost C, Nicholas R.
Journal: Lancet. 2014 Jun 28;383(9936):2213-21.
PMID: 24655729             (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this double-blind clinical study (meaning that both the investigators and the subjects in the study were unaware of which treatment was being administered), 140 people with multiple sclerosis were randomly assigned to receive either the statin drug simvastatin (70 people; 40 mg per day for the first month and then 80 mg per day for the remainder of 18 months) or a placebo treatment (70 people).

Patients were seen at 1, 6, 12, and 24 months into the study, with telephone follow-up at months 3 and 18. MRI brain scans were also made at the start of the trial, and then again at 12 months and 25 months for comparative sake.

The results of the study indicate that high-dose simvastatin was well tolerated and reduced the rate of whole-brain shrinkage compared with the placebo treatment. The mean annualised shrinkage rate was significantly lower in patients in the simvastatin group. The researchers were very pleased with this result and are looking to conduct a larger phase III clinical trial.

Other studies have not demonstrated beneficial results from statin treatment, but they have also not observed a worsening of the disease conditions:

Alzh
Title: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of simvastatin to treat Alzheimer disease.
Authors:Sano M, Bell KL, Galasko D, Galvin JE, Thomas RG, van Dyck CH, Aisen PS.
Journal: Neurology. 2011 Aug 9;77(6):556-63.
PMID: 21795660            (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the investigators recruited a total of 406 individuals were mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and they were randomly assigned to two groups: 204 to simvastatin (20 mg/day, for 6 weeks then 40 mg per day for the remainder of 18 months) and 202 to placebo control treatment. While Simvastatin displayed no beneficial effects on the progression of symptoms in treated individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (other than significantly lowering of cholesterol levels), the treatment also exhibited no effect on worsening the disease.

 

So what does it all mean?

Research investigating cholesterol and its association with Parkinson’s disease has been going on for a long time. This week a research report involving a huge database was published which indicated that using cholesterol reducing medication could significantly increase one’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

These results do not mean that someone being administered statins is automatically going to develop Parkinson’s disease, but – if the results are replicated – it may need to be something that physicians should consider before prescribing this class of drug.

Whether ongoing clinical trials of statins and Parkinson’s disease should be reconsidered is a subject for debate well above my pay grade (and only if the current results are replicated independently). It could be that statin treatment (or lowering of cholesterol) may have an ‘unmasking’ effect in some individuals, but does this mean that any beneficial effects in other individuals should be discounted? If preclinical data is correct, for example, statins may reduce alpha synuclein clustering in some people which could be beneficial in Parkinson’s.

As we have said above, further research is required in this area before definitive conclusions can be made. This is particularly important given the inconsistencies of the previous research results in the statin and Parkinson’s disease field of investigation.


EDITORIAL NOTE: The information provided by the SoPD website is for information and educational purposes only. Under no circumstances should it ever be considered medical or actionable advice. It is provided by research scientists, not medical practitioners. Any actions taken – based on what has been read on the website – are the sole responsibility of the reader. Any actions being contemplated by readers should firstly be discussed with a qualified healthcare professional who is aware of your medical history. While some of the information discussed in this post may cause concern, please speak with your medical physician before attempting any change in an existing treatment regime.


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Are Dyskinesias days NAM-bered?

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Addex Therapeutics and the Michael J Fox Foundation are preparing to initiate a new clinical trial testing a new drug called Dipraglurant on levodopa-induced dyskinesia (Source).

Dipraglurant is a mGluR5 negative allosteric modulator (don’t panic, it’s not as complicated as it sounds).

In today’s post, we’ll explain what all of that means and look at the science behind this new treatment.


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

For anyone familiar with Parkinson’s disease, they will know that long term use of the treatment L-dopa can lead to two possible outcomes:

  1. The treatment loses it’s impact, requiring ever higher doses to be administered
  2. The appearance of dykinesias

Now, not everyone taking L-dopa will be affected by both of these outcomes, but people with young, onset Parkinson’s disease do seem to be at risk of developing L-dopa induced dykinesias.

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 we have suggested above, they are associated in Parkinson’s disease with long-term use of L-dopa.

Below is a video of two legends: the late Tom Isaacs (who co-founded the Cure Parkinson’s Trust) and David Sangster (he founded www.1in20Parkinsons.org.uk). They were both diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in their late 20’s. Tom, having lived with Parkinson’s for 20 years at the time of this video provides a good example of what dyskinesias look like:

As you can see, dyskinesias are a debilitating issue for anyone who suffers them.

How do dyskinesias develop in Parkinson’s disease?

Before being diagnosed and beginning a course of L-dopa, the locomotion parts of the brain in a person with Parkinson’s disease gradually becomes more and more inhibited. This increasing inhibition results in the slowness and difficulty in initiating movement that characterises this condition. A person with Parkinson’s may want to move, but they can’t.

They are akinetic (from Greek: a-, not, without; and kinēsis – motion).

972px-Paralysis_agitans_(1907,_after_St._Leger)

Drawing of an akinetic individual with Parkinson’s disease, by Sir William Richard Gowers
Source: Wikipedia

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.

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Sinemet is L-dopa. Source: Drugs

Once inside the brain, L-dopa is quickly converted into dopamine. It is changed into dopamine by an enzyme called DOPA decarboxylase, and this change rapidly increases the levels of dopamine in the brain, allowing the locomotion parts of the brain to function more normally.

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The chemical conversion of L-dopa to dopamine. Source: Nootrobox

In understanding this process, it is important to appreciate that when an L-dopa tablet is consumed and L-dopa enters the brain, there is a rapid increase in the levels of dopamine. A ‘spike’ in the supply of dopamine, if you will, and this will last for the next few hours, before the dopamine is used up.

As the effects of the L-dopa tablet wear off, another tablet will be required. This use of multiple L-dopa pills across the day gives rise to a wave-like shape to the dopamine levels in the brain over the course of the day (see the figure below). The first pill in the morning will quickly lift the levels of dopamine enough that the individual will no longer feel akinetic. This will allow them to be able to function with normal controlled movement for several hours before the L-dopa begins to wear off. As the L-dopa wears off, the dopamine levels in the brain drop back towards levels that will leave the person feeling akinetic and at this point another L-dopa tablet is required.

Dysk1

After several years of L-dopa use, many people with Parkinson’s disease will experience a weaker response to each tablet. 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 progression of Parkinson’s disease – L-dopa treats the motor features of the disease but only hides/masks the fact that the disease is still progressing.

To combat this shorter response time, the dose of L-dopa is increased. This will result in increasing levels of dopamine in the brain (as illustrated by the higher wave form over time in the image below). It will take more L-dopa medication induced dopamine to lift the individual out of the akinetic state.

Dyskinesias3

This increasing of L-dopa dosage, however, is often associated with the gradual development of abnormal involuntary movements that appear when the levels of L-dopa induced dopamine are the highest.

These are the 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.

We have previously discussed the current treatment options for dyskinesias (click here to see that post).

Ok, so what clinical trials are Addex Therapeutics and the Michael J Fox Foundation preparing and why?

They are preparing to take a drug called Dipraglurant through phase III testing for L-dopa inducing dyskinesias in Parkinson’s disease. Dipraglurant is a mGluR5 negative allosteric modulator.

And yes, I know what you are going to ask next: what does any of that mean?

Ok, so mGluR5 (or Metabotropic glutamate receptor 5) is a G protein-coupled receptor. This is a structure that sits in the skin of a cell (the cell membrane), with one part exposed to the outside world – waiting for a chemical to bind to it – while another part is inside the cell, ready to act when the outside part is activated. The outside part of the structure is called the receptor.

Metabotropic receptors are a type of receptor that is indirectly linked with channels in cell membrane. These channels open and close, allowing specific elements to enter the cell. When a chemical (or agonist) binds to the receptor and it becomes activated, the part of the structure inside the cell will send a signal to the channel via a messenger (called a G-protein).

The chemical that binds to mGluR5 is the neurotransmitter glutamate.

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Metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 activation. Source: Nature

But what about the “negative allosteric modulator” part of ‘mGluR5 negative allosteric modulator’

Good question.

This is the key part of this new approach. Allosteric modulators are a new class of orally available small molecule therapeutic agents. Traditionally, most marketed drugs bind directly to the same part of receptors that the body’s own natural occurring proteins attach to. But this means that those drugs are competing with those endogenous proteins, and this can limit the potential effect of the drug.

Allosteric modulators get around this problem by binding to a different parts of the receptor. And instead of simply turning on or off the receptor, allosteric modulators can either turn up the volume of the signal being sent by the receptor or decrease the signals. This means that when the body’s naturally occurring protein binds in the receptor, allosteric modulators can either amplify the effect or reduce it depending on which type of allosteric modulators is being administered.

allosteric_modulation_mechanism

How Allosteric modulators work. Source: Addrex Thereapeutics

There are two different types of allosteric modulators: positive and negative. And as the label suggests, positive allosteric modulators (or PAMs) increase the signal from the receptor while negative allosteric modulators (or NAMs) reduce the signal.

So Dipraglurant turns down the volume of the signal from the mGluR5 receptor?

Exactly.

By turning down the volume of the glutamate receptor mGluR5, researchers believe that we can reduce the severity of dyskinesias.

But hang on a second. Why are we looking at glutamate in dyskinesias? Isn’t dopamine the chemical of interest in Parkinson’s disease?

So almost 10 years ago, some researchers noticed something interesting in the brains of Parkinsonian monkeys that had developed dyskinesias:

Monkey2
Title: mGluR5 metabotropic glutamate receptors and dyskinesias in MPTP monkeys.
Authors: Samadi P, Grégoire L, Morissette M, Calon F, Hadj Tahar A, Dridi M, Belanger N, Meltzer LT, Bédard PJ, Di Paolo T.
Journal: Neurobiol Aging. 2008 Jul;29(7):1040-51.
PMID: 17353071

The researchers conducting this study induced Parkinson’s disease in monkeys using a neurotoxin called MPTP, and they then treated the monkeys with L-dopa until they began to develop dyskinesias. At this point when they looked in the brains of these monkeys, the researchers noticed a significant increase in the levels of mGluR5, which was associated with the dyskinesias. This finding led the researchers to speculate that reducing mGluR5 levels might reduce dyskinesias.

And it did!

Subsequent preclinical research indicated that targeting mGluR5 might be useful in treating dyskinesias, especially with negative allosteric modulators:

Monkey
Title: The mGluR5 negative allosteric modulator dipraglurant reduces dyskinesia in the MPTP macaque model
Authors: Bezard E, Pioli EY, Li Q, Girard F, Mutel V, Keywood C, Tison F, Rascol O, Poli SM.
Journal: Mov Disord. 2014 Jul;29(8):1074-9.
PMID: 24865335

In this study, the researchers tested the efficacy of dipraglurant in Parkinsonian primates  that had developed L-dopa induced dyskinesias. They tested three different doses of the drug (3, 10, and 30 mg/kg).

Dipraglurant significantly reduced dyskinesias in the monkeys, with best effect being reached using the 30 mg/kg dose. Importantly, the dipraglurant treatment had no impact on the efficacy of L-dopa which was still being used to treat the monkeys Parkinson’s features.

This research lead to a clinical trials in man, and last year Addex Therapeutics published the results of their phase IIa clinical trial of Dipraglurant (also called ADX-48621):

NAM

Title: A Phase 2A Trial of the Novel mGluR5-Negative Allosteric Modulator Dipraglurant for Levodopa-Induced Dyskinesia in Parkinson’s Disease.
Authors: Tison F, Keywood C, Wakefield M, Durif F, Corvol JC, Eggert K, Lew M, Isaacson S, Bezard E, Poli SM, Goetz CG, Trenkwalder C, Rascol O.
Journal: Mov Disord. 2016 Sep;31(9):1373-80.
PMID: 27214664

The Phase IIa double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised trial was a dose escalation study, conducted in 76 patients with Parkinson’s disease L-dopa-induced dyskinesia – 52 subjects were given dipraglurant and 24 received a placebo treatment. The dose escalation assessment of dipraglurant started at 50 mg once daily to 100 mg 3 times daily. The study was conducted over 4 weeks.

The investigators found that dipraglurant significantly reduced the dyskinesias on both day 1 of the study and on day 14, and this treatment did not result in any worsening of the Parkinsonian features. And remember that this was a double blind study, so both the investigators and the participants had no idea which treatment was being given to each subject. Thus little bias can influence the outcome, indicating that dipraglurant really is having a beneficial effect on dyskinesias.

The company suggested that dipraglurant’s efficacy in reducing L-dopa-induced dyskinesia warrants further investigations in a larger number of patients. And this is what the company is now doing with the help of the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF). In addition, dipraglurant’s potential benefits on dystonia are also going to be investigated with support from the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF).

And the really encouraging aspect of this research is that Addex Therapeutics are not the only research group achieving significant beneficial results for dykinesias using this treatment approach (click here to read about other NAM-based clinical studies for dyskinesias).

Fingers crossed for more positive results here.

What happens next?

L-dopa induced dyskinesias can be one of the most debilitating aspects of living with Parkinson’s disease, particularly for the early-onset forms of the condition. A great deal of research is being conducted in order to alleviate these complications, and we are now starting to see positive clinical results starting to flow from that research.

These results are using new type of therapeutic drug that are designed to increase or decrease the level of a signal occurring in a cell without interfering with the normal functioning of the chemicals controlling the activation of that signal.

This is really impressive biology.


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