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Honing in on Parkinson's

February 11, 2011

Rheanna Sand

Parkinson’s disease, named after the scientist and social activist James Parkinson (1755-1824), is one of the most common neurodegenerative disorders of old age. It affects 2% of people over 60, and results from the death of brain cells that produce dopamine, causing tremors, stiffness, and other neurological problems. 

 

(Toothpaste for Dinner)


What we know about the cause of Parkinson’s can be boiled down to: “getting old,” “genes,” and “environment.” In other words, we have a long way to go. Luckily, a new study from Saint Louis University is shedding some light on the matter.

In their study on rats, Panneton and colleagues showed that a natural product of brain metabolism, DOPAL (3,4- dihydroxyphenylacetaldehyde), acted as a neurotoxin to cause symptoms of the disease. DOPAL is produced during the breakdown of dopamine, and leads to more buildup of a protein called alpha-synuclein, which is known to be a major factor in brain cell death associated with Parkinson’s. Knowing this piece of the puzzle could lead to preventive treatments, in contrast to the relatively weak dopamine-replacement therapies that exist now.

Apparently DOPAL is a known neurotoxin, as there are numerous other studies showing ill effects. One article stands out, however: “Contamination of the norepinephrine prodrug Droxidopa by dihydroxyphenylacetaldehyde" (DOPAL). Droxidopa is used for a blood pressure problem - one commonly manifested by Parkinson’s patients.

Now, I’m no conspiracy theorist. And I’m also a Ph.D. candidate in a pharmacology-related field. But in the past few years, I’ve heard of anti-depressants that make patients depressed, pain medication that causes strokes, and now possibly a Parkinson’s drug that causes Parkinson’s?

 

Why are the results of the Droxidopa U.S. clinical trials “not posted,” though being complete since August 2009? Perhaps the manufacturers, Chelsea Pharmaceuticals, want to avoid further trouble. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

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