Researchers from Imperial College London and Newcastle University believe they have found a potential new way to target cells of the brain affected by Parkinson's disease. The new technique is relatively non-invasive and has worked to improve symptoms of the disease in a rat model. Parkinson's disease causes progressive problems with movement, posture, and balance. It is currently treated with drugs, but these have severe side-effects and can become ineffective after approximately five years. The only treatment subsequently available to patients is deep-brain stimulation, a surgical technique where an electrical current is used to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. In addition to being an invasive treatment, this approach has mixed results - some patients benefit, while others experience no improvement or even deteriorate. Researchers believe this is because the treatment is imprecise, stimulating all types of nerve cells, not just the intended target. The new study, published online on September 23, 2015 in an open-access article in the journal Molecular Neurodegeneration, examined a less invasive and more precise alternative, designed to target and stimulate a particular type of nerve cell called cholinergic neurons. These cells are found within a part of the brain called the pedunculopontine nucleus, or PPN. The article is titled “Pharmacogenetic Stimulation of Cholinergic Pedunculopontine Neurons Reverses Motor Deficits in a Rat Model of Parkinson’s Disease.” "If you were to peer inside the PPN, it is like a jungle with a massive variety of nerve cells that behave differently and have different jobs to do," said Dr. Ilse Pienaar, Honorary Lecturer in Neuroscience at Imperial College London. Scientists already suspect that cholinergic neuron cells are involved in Parkinson's disease.
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