Parkinson's disease is generally thought to be caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain, but scientists from the University of Copenhagen believe they have discovered a breakthrough that could shape the way in which research for a cure is undertaken.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has an impact on functions such as motor control, learning and memory - key aspects of the body that get adversely affected in individuals with the condition.
When the amount drops, nerves that make up part of the brain's so-called stop signal are thrust into action. Experts have always assumed that a long-term lack of dopamine must cause the symptoms experienced in Parkinson's, but the use of computer simulations by Jakob Kisbye Dreyer and his team has started to call this into question.
The team were able to "put forward a different theory about what actually takes place in the brain when the dopamine cells gradually die," said Mr Dreyer, who is a postdoc at the department of neuroscience and pharmacology.
It transpired that the brain of an individual with Parkinson's was revealed not to have a lack of dopamine - even though cell death of the neurotransmitter had taken place. While the symptoms of the individuals imply that the stop signal has been over-activated, the data says otherwise.
"The inability to establish a lack of dopamine until advanced cases of Parkinson's disease has been a thorn in the side of researchers for many years," he continued.
It is believed that cell death only has an impact on dopamine levels towards the very end of the process. However, it's thought symptoms can appear before these quantities take a downward trajectory. It is hoped these findings will help experts to diagnose this condition earlier than before.
Parkinson's disease affects around 127,000 individuals in the UK and while there are treatments to manage the symptoms, no definitive cure exists currently.
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