A light on Parkinson's

13 July 2010

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Category: Research & medical benefits

invitro–brain–cell.jpgShining a laser into the brain may ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s, a new study in mice has shown.

Previous studies have suggested that movement is controlled by the careful regulation of ‘stop’ and ‘go’ pathways. The new work, in mice that display similar symptoms to people with Parkinson’s, reveals that these pathways can in turn be controlled by genetically altering them to be responsive to light.

The team genetically engineered some brain cells in the mice to respond to light. They then inserted a fine fibre optic cable into the brain through which they could shine a laser and control the cells. When the light was off, the mice showed symptoms of Parkinson’s. Yet when the light was on, motor pathways were activated and the symptoms eased, so that the mice were only able to move around normally when the laser was on.

This study has revealed more about the pathways involved in motor function and how dopamine, a chemical messenger which Parkinson’s patients cannot produce, is not needed to regain control of the motor pathways. Although more research is needed, scientists hope the results could also help in the study of Huntington’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome.