AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 2, 2018


Parkinson’s Disease Brain Cells at Risk of Burnout

According to a study recently published in the journal Current Biology, the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s disease may caused by a form of cellular energy crisis in neurons that require unusually high quantities of energy in order to carry out their job of regulating movement. “Like a motor constantly running at high speed, these neurons need to produce an incredible amount of energy to function. They appear to exhaust themselves and die prematurely,” said the study’s lead researcher. The findings are a culmination of 17 years of researching the parts of the brain that cause Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and drug addiction, which could lead to potential new treatment strategies. For the past three years, the research team carried out numerous experiments in order to identify why mitochondria in neurons of the substantia nigra work so hard, causing neurons to “overheat.” They discovered that this overheating could be caused by the fact that these neurons have an amazingly complex structure with a large number of extensions and neurotransmitter release sites, much like a tree with numerous branches. Providing energy to these numerous branches may make the neurons particularly vulnerable, leading, in the context of aging, to malfunction and cell death, triggering Parkinson’s disease, with the onset of symptoms generally at around age sixty. To read more about this study, click here.

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