A group of researchers say that the loss of dopamine, which produces the effects of Parkinson’s, plays a role in the development of the disease before dopamine-producing cells are killed off.
Scientists have long known that a key protein called alpha-synuclein plays a role in the development of Parkinson’s. Alpha-synuclein is found throughout the brain but in some people the protein clumps together. This causes the death of the dopamine-producing cells, which in turn causes the disease to develop.
The investigators found that in the process that leads to Parkinson’s disease, dopamine is converted into a highly toxic chemical called DOPAL. Using test-tube, cell-culture, and animal models, the researchers found that it is DOPAL that causes alpha-synuclein protein in the brain to clump together, which in turn triggers the death of dopamine-producing cells and leads to Parkinson’s.
The study was conducted by scientists at Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis. The findings are published in an early online edition of Acta Neuropathologica.