Critical aspects of Parkinson’s disease ‘largely ignored’

Critical aspects of Parkinson’s disease essential to finding real treatments have been “largely ignored”, says a lead Parkinson’s disease researcher.

Prof Glenda Halliday, from Neuroscience Research Australia, says the study of diverse lesions that cause the death of brain cells in people with Parkinson’s disease is critical to finding new treatments for the disease.

“My research has shown that Parkinson’s is more than just a loss of dopamine neurons,” says Prof Halliday. “To move the field forward and find real treatments, it’s crucial to understand the whole disease rather than just a part of it.”

The two main types of lesions in Parkinson’s are a loss of neurons accompanied by inflammation and abnormal protein deposits. Other types of lesions occur depending on the brain region involved.

Prof Halliday covers this critical area of Parkinson’s research in a new book, to be launched next week at the Society for Neuroscience conference – Neuroscience 2010 – in San Diego.

The book, ‘Non-dopamine Lesions in Parkinson’s Disease’, covers research that looks beyond the classic approach to Parkinson’s – the loss of dopamine neurons – to a range of lesions that form in the brain and affect disease symptoms, progression and treatment.

Parkinson’s disease becomes apparent only after substantial loss of the dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra, which is why research has traditionally focused in this area.

However, by the time these neurons have been damaged, widespread and diverse lesions have formed in the peripheral and central nervous system.

This book reviews these ‘non-dopamine lesions’ in Parkinson’s disease, including how they relate to different symptoms and how they may be potentially treated.

Symptoms covered include: slowness of movement, rigidity and tremor, changes in speech and eye movements, changes in the sense of smell, abnormalities in the sensation of pain, sleep disturbances, depression and apathy, hallucinations and psychoses, cognitive impairment and dementia.

The book is written for researchers in the field and will hopefully become standard knowledge, says Prof Halliday.

“This book is designed for people wanting to understand more about our current knowledge on the largely ignored non-dopamine aspects of Parkinson’s disease.

“I hope it assists with the design of better research strategies for moving the treatment of Parkinson’s forward, as well as designing treatments for all aspects of the disease.”

Non-dopamine Lesions in Parkinson’s Disease’, edited by Glenda M. Halliday, Roger A. Barker and Dominic B. Rowe, is published by Oxford University Press.