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Two brain chemicals should be targeted in Parkinson's treatment, study says

While Parkinson's disease patients often receive treatment for lower dopamine levels, researchers say treatment should also target the chemical acetylcholine.

By
Tauren Dyson
Researchers say that focus on higher acetylcholine levels and lower dopamine levels in Parkinson's disease patients, rather than just dopamine, could lead to better treatment methods. Pictured is actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Researchers say that focus on higher acetylcholine levels and lower dopamine levels in Parkinson's disease patients, rather than just dopamine, could lead to better treatment methods. Pictured is actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

July 17 (UPI) -- Scientists have traditionally worked on therapies for Parkinson's disease that increase dopamine in the brain, but new research may change that focus.

A new study, published Tuesday in Neuron, looked into the connection between lower dopamine levels and higher acetylcholine levels.

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The resting tremors, stiffness and loss of balance experienced by Parkinson's disease patients is caused by the death of nerve cells that produce dopamine. To push back against the effects of Parkinson's, doctors stimulate dopamine production in the brain's striatum, which coordinates the body's motor learning.

Studies have long shown that a decrease in dopamine leads to an increase in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, researchers say, which brings on dyskinesia. This movement disorder develops in people who have been treated for Parkinson's for a few years.

While exploring the interplay between these two chemicals in lab mice, the researchers noticed that small changes in dopamine and acetylcholine don't cause motor dysfunction. Rather the animals motor skills began to rely on each chemical.

The researchers say this suggests future therapies should attempt to balance both dopamine and acetylcholine instead of just focusing on dopamine.

Nearly 1 million people in the United States live with Parkinson's disease.

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