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Early Parkinson's Diagnosis

08/07/2019 (8 months ago)

Researchers have uncovered the early signs of Parkinson’s disease, years before patients show any common symptoms.

The new study by King’s College London, funded by the Lily Safra Foundation, has provided evidence that changes to the brain chemical serotonin could act as a key early warning signal for the disease. 
 
The study, published in The Lancet Neurology, compiled data from 14 people with SNCA gene mutations - an extremely rare gene, but those with it are almost certain to develop Parkinson’s disease – along with 65 patients with non-genetic Parkinson’s disease and 25 healthy volunteers. Research found that the serotonin system starts to malfunction in people with Parkinson’s well before symptoms affecting movement occur, and before the first changes in the dopamine system (a group of nerve cells in the midbrain).
 
Parkinson’s disease is characterised by movement and cognitive problems, but is known to become established in the brain a long time before patients are diagnosed. 
 
Chief investigator Professor Marios Politis, Lily Safra Professor of Neurology & Neuroimaging at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), explains: “Parkinson’s disease has traditionally been thought of as occurring due to damage in the dopamine system, but we show that changes to the serotonin system come first, occurring many years before patients begin to show symptoms. 
 
“Our results suggest that early detection of changes in the serotonin system could open doors to the development of new therapies to slow, and ultimately prevent, progression of Parkinson’s disease.”
 
Dr Beckie Port, Research Manager at Parkinson’s UK, says: “This is one of the first studies to suggest that changes in serotonin signalling may be an early consequence of Parkinson’s. Detecting changes that are happening in the brain in these early stages is a crucial gap in Parkinson’s research at the moment. 
 
“Picking up on the condition earlier and being able to monitor its progression would aid the discovery of new and better treatments that could slow the loss of brain cells in Parkinson’s.
 
“Further research is needed to fully understand the importance of this discovery, but if it is able to unlock a tool to measure and monitor how Parkinson’s develops, it could change countless lives.”

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