New research has provided fresh hope for a Parkinson’s disease cure.
Scientists have discovered excessive calcium levels in the brain may be behind the condition that has previously left experts baffled.
Although the mineral plays a vital role in linking nerve endings with a protein, known as alpha-synuclein, which is critical for brain cell communication, excessive levels can trigger nerve cell death, a study found.
Study author Dr Amberley Stephens from Cambridge University, said: ‘There’s a fine balance of calcium and alpha-synuclein in the cell, and when there is too much of one or the other, the balance is tipped and aggregation begins, leading to Parkinson’s disease.’
Parkinson’s disease is caused by these proteins folding into the wrong shape and sticking together to form filament-like structures, however, it was previously unclear why this occurs.
The researchers hope their findings could lead to the development of new treatments, such as calcium blockers, to combat the incurable condition.
They add eating calcium-rich foods, such as cheese, is not linked to the disorder.
Senior author Dr Gabriele Kaminski Schierle added: ‘The study relates to the control of calcium levels which will be the same in any human being independent of its dietary intake.’
Around one in every 350 adults in the UK suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
DOES WEIGHT LOSS BENEFIT PARKINSON’S DISEASE SUFFERERS?
Weight loss in Parkinson’s disease sufferers increases their risk of suffering a premature death, dementia and loss of independence, research suggested in November 2017.
Although the study did not specify why weight loss worsens Parkinson’s patients’ outcomes, previous research has linked it to weakness, low blood pressure and osteoporosis.
Parkinson’s sufferers often struggle to maintain their weight due to the condition impacting their sense of smell, which can reduce their appetite.
Their ability to swallow is also often affected.
Patients may also suffer from depression as a result of their illness, which can further reduce their desire to eat.
Further research is required to determine if a high-calorie diet can reverse weight loss in Parkinson’s sufferers.
The researchers, from the University of Aberdeen, analysed 275 Parkinson disease patients, or those suffering from similar tremor-like symptoms, for up to 10 years.
The study’s participants’ weight and disease progression was monitored.
Calcium influences nerve cell communication
The researchers analysed synaptic vesicles, which are part of nerve cells that store the neurotransmitters that send signals from one cell to another.
Calcium, which is found in dairy, as well as kale and sesame seeds, plays a role in the release of these neurotransmitters.
The scientists observed that when calcium levels in the nerve cells increase, the alpha-synuclein binds to synaptic vesicles at multiple points.
This causes the vesicles to come together, which indicates the role of alpha-synuclein is to help the chemical transmission of information across nerve cells.
Study author Dr Janin Lautenschlager said: ‘We think alpha-synuclein is almost like a calcium sensor. In the presence of calcium it changes its structure and how it interacts with its environment.’
The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.
‘Calcium may cause damage that leads to brain cell death’
Claire Bale, head of research communications at Parkinson’s UK, said: ‘We’ve known for some time too much calcium or too much alpha-synuclein, the main protein involved in Parkinson’s, causes problems for brain cells affected in the condition.
‘This particular study is interesting because it’s the first time research has shown there may be an important interplay between alpha-synuclein and calcium inside cells, which if disturbed, may cause the damage that ultimately leads to brain cell death.
‘Understanding exactly how and why brain cells stop working properly and die in Parkinson’s is still a mystery.
‘While more research will need to be done, this important new clue could be the key to better treatments in the future.’
Past research suggests obese people are nearly 20 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson’s
Obese people are nearly 20% less likely to develop Parkinson’s
This comes after research released in June 2017 suggested obese people are nearly 20 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
Having an obese BMI throughout your life lowers your risk of developing the condition by 18 per cent, a study review found.
This may be be due to the weight disorder sharing genetic variants with factors that protect against the neurological condition, according to researchers from University College London.
Yet, the researchers warn the health risks of carrying excessive weight will likely outweigh any reduced susceptibility to Parkinson’s.
They said: ‘Although our results suggest that higher BMI is potentially protective against Parkinson’s, the negative health impacts of raising BMI are likely to be significant, and should be taken into account.’