09:31am Wednesday 20 September 2017

Researching the causes of Parkinson’s disease

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Prof. Günter U. Höglinger

Prof. Günter U. Höglinger

Parkinson’s disease and related parkinsonian syndromes are diseases that progressively restrict the patients’ mobility and later often lead to dementia. They typically occur between ages of 50 to 70 years and interventions that clearly halt or cure progression of these diseases are lacking. The rare atypical Parkinson syndromes can progress rapidly and even lead to patients’ death within less than ten years. All forms of Parkinson’s disease are characterized by protein aggregations in nerve cells, which are thought to be toxic to the affected cells. “We can differentiate between two types of parkinsonian pathology: one is accompanied by the aggregation of the protein alpha-synuclein and the other by the aggregation of the tau protein”, explains Höglinger. “The exact trigger for the development of those aggregates, however, is still unknown and, therefore, we are searching for it.”

Only in rare instances are Parkinson syndromes hereditary – their occurrence is far more commonly sporadic. However, our genes may still contribute to each individual’s susceptibility. Prof. Höglinger’s earlier research work has already identified some genetic factors relevant to parkinsonism risk. Furthermore, he contributed to studies that identified an environmental trigger for an atypical form of Parkinsonism (a fruit consumed on the Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe and other tropical regions).   Dr. Höglinger has also reported that the brain’s energy metabolism is decreased in Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a severe atypical parkinsonian syndrome, and that a certain treatment can indeed improve cerebral energy production. He proved his hypothesis in an investigator-initiated clinical trial, which showed the first unequivocally positive treatment result for an atypical Parkinson syndrome. For these findings, Höglinger received the prestigious first award of the Dr. Walter and Luise Freundlich Foundation in 2009.

In addition to his professorship in Translational Neurodegeneration at the DZNE, Günter Höglinger works as a consultant in neurology at the Neurological Hospital of the Technical University Munich. “This permits me to I keep an eye on new developments in the entire field of clinical neurology and identify specific issues in the clinical setting that can be immediately tested in the laboratory. Moreover, we are also able to transfer ideas directly from the lab to the clinic.” This so-called “translational approach” promotes the development of novel diagnostics and therapies and sharpens the focus of laboratory-based investigations. “Our main mission is to find a cause-specific treatment for neurodegenerative diseases”, says Höglinger. “We aim to contribute key findings to the achievement of that goal, and to translate novel scientific insights into a benefit for patients as rapidly as possible.”

Günter Höglinger studied medicine and physics at the Universities of Regensburg and Würzburg and completed his PhD in Human Medicine in 2000. He did his postdoctoral training at the Hôpital de la Salpêtrière in Paris, focusing on experimental models of neurodegenerative diseases and supported a grant from the German research funding organization “Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)”. Since 2004, he has led his own research group at the Department of Neurology at the Philipp University in Marburg. He also maintained a specialized clinical neurology and consulting practice there, with a focus on neurodegenerative disorders.

Prof. Günter U. Höglinger
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
c/o Institut für Translationale Neurodegeneration
Max Lebsche Platz 30
81377 München
Tel.:     +49 (0) 89 / 2180-75469 
Email:  guenter.hoeglinger@dzne.de

Daniel Bayer
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Tel.:     +49 (0) 228 / 43302-261
Email:  daniel.bayer@dzne.de

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