Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Procedure Could Provide Longer-Lasting Parkinson's Treatment

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Procedure Could Provide Longer-Lasting Parkinson's Treatment

Article excerpt

Taming Parkinson's disease involves controlling the interaction among brain cells (neurons) in the basal ganglia - the part of the central brain shaped like the @ symbol.

In normal function, the neurons chatter among themselves in a way similar to a crowd talking before a concert. The result is steady brain signaling that produces normal motor function.

Things go wrong when those neurons quit chattering and become synchronized in their signaling, as though the crowd quit chattering and now is clapping in unison. The result is the notable Parkinson's disease symptom - shaking hands.

"Think of it," said Aryn Gittis, the Carnegie Mellon University assistant professor of biology. "The synchronization hijacks the basal ganglia, almost like a record that gets stuck, playing over and over again. You have to kick it and get it out of that repeating pattern."

In a scientific sense, the CMU biologist and her team from CMU, the University of Pittsburgh and the CMU/Pitt Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, have figured out how to kick the turntable and get the system back to normal function for hours at a time.

The team used optogenetics - using light to affect cells - to turn on and off specific sets of neurons in the basal ganglia with light pulses delivered through an implanted optical fiber. The basal ganglia is an important brain area for voluntary motion control. Normal function was restored by boosting the activity of one set of neurons relative to another set of neurons.

With one bout of stimulation, movement was restored for hours before aberrant neural activity returned.

Published last week in Nature Neuroscience, the Pittsburgh study provides a new approach to treating symptoms of Parkinson's disease that's caused by the death of "dopamine neurons" that feed into the brain's basal ganglia. When it ceases to work properly, the body can't initiate voluntary movement.

The study also outlines more thoroughly how the circuitry of neurons in the basal ganglia behave in Parkinson's disease.

Specifically, the team identified and targeted two cell groups and discovered that stimulating the PV-GPe group more than the Lhx6-GPe group reversed aberrant brain activity and restored normal movement to a mouse with induced Parkinson's disease. …

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