AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 3, 2018

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Untangling Brain Neuron Dysfunction in Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia with Lewy Bodies

A neuron model shows defects that could suggest treatments to halt or reverse cognitive impairments.

 

A decay of brain function is a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies, or DLB. Specifically, cognitive dysfunction defines DLB, and nearly eight of every 10 Parkinson’s patients develop dementia.

In both of these neuro-degenerative diseases, aggregates of misfolded alpha-synuclein protein develop in brain neurons, including the hippocampus, the region of the brain that plays a vital role in the formation of memories.

These aggregates eventually lead to cell death. However, knowledge of how the abnormal aggregates affect hippocampal neuron structure and function in Parkinson’s and DLB before cell death is lacking.

Laura Volpicelli-Daley, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, and colleagues have now described changes in hippocampal neurons early after the pathogenic alpha-synuclein aggregates begin to appear. This understanding, combined with further exploration of the mechanisms underlying the neuronal changes, could point to novel therapeutic treatments to prevent or reverse neuronal defects and halt development of dementia.

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