The study, conducted by a team at Cardiff University, is published by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today.
The researchers have identified an overactive pathway inside nerve cells that could be ‘turned down’ to potentially halt or reduce the uncontrollable movements called dyskinesia, which are an unwanted side effect of Levodopa, one of the main drugs for Parkinson’s.
Although Levodopa is one of the best treatments available, dyskinesia is one of the main problems. These are involuntary movements which can mean that people’s bodies distort or their arms or legs jerk uncontrollably.
Dyskinesia is different from the resting tremor that is usually associated with Parkinson’s. The movements are one of the most distressing side effects of taking Parkinson’s drugs. Dyskinesia make day to day life with Parkinson’s even more challenging. Many of the things which we take for granted, such as sitting still, writing, walking or dressing become difficult or impossible.
The international study involved also researchers from Sweden, France, Italy and China and was co-funded by several partners, including Parkinson’s UK and the Michael J Fox Foundation. Parkinson’s UK awarded £400,000 to lead researcher Dr Riccardo Brambilla, of Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences.
The study shows how a chain of events inside nerve cells called the Ras-ERK pathway becomes hyperactive and leads to dyskinesia. Dr Brambilla’s team was able to stop dyskinesia in animal models by turning down the activity of two key parts of this overactive pathway.
Dr Brambilla explains: “Our work will pave the way for effective new treatments that can reduce or prevent dyskinesia. The challenge will be to target and block the right nerve cells in the brain which cause dyskinesia, without interfering with the positive benefits of Levodopa.”
Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at Parkinson’s UK, adds:
“We know just how distressing and widespread dyskinesia can be. This research is an important step forward in the search for better treatments that will make a real difference to the quality of life and confidence of thousands of people with Parkinson’s.
“At Parkinson’s UK we are committed to funding research to find a cure for Parkinson’s and to find new and kinder drug treatments with fewer side effects and tackling the cause of dyskinesia would be a major step forward towards this goal.”
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Notes to editors
About Parkinson’s, Levadopa and dyskinesia
• Levodopa has been used since the 1960s and is the main drug treatment for Parkinson’s.
• Currently, there are no effective treatments that can prevent or reduce dyskinesia.
• Parkinson’s develops because of a lack of the chemical dopamine in nerve cells in the part of the brain where Parkinson’s develops. Levodopa works by replacing the dopamine that is lost.
About Parkinson’s UK
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Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.
Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.