Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder in which the motor neurons are affected. In this disease the various muscle groups of the body are affected that ultimately causes the stiffness of the muscles, as well as slowness, there is increased difficulty in standing and there are tremors of the limbs. As this disease progresses, the situation and the quality of life of an individual worsens along with it and it becomes most difficult in terms of walking, talking, doing activities of daily living and this just gets worse and worse over time.
All the movement in our body is controlled through our brain. For us it is so simple that when we want to move one part of our body and we are able to move it, but this is really a very complex mechanism that involves so many neurochemicals, nerves, synapses and they all work as a team to perform one single movement. It is really important for us to understand as to how our brain controls the movement so that we are able to understand things in a better context. Our brain makes very complex decisions in terms of what muscles need to be used, what is the specific power that needs to be exerted, how to position the body while applying the power of the muscles, how to maintain that position, how to balance etc. and all these decisions are being taken by the brain thus making even the single movement quite complex.
This information is then relayed to the area of the brain, which is known as striatum, which is responsible to control the movement of the body. This area of the brain, which is striatum also works with another part of the brain known as the substantia nigra to control the body for balance and coordination. From these areas in the brain, the signals are then passed onto the spinal cord through the nerves and then are relayed onto the muscles, which will cause the movement to occur.
In order to understand as to how these nerves communicate with each other, we need to understand that the nervous system is composed of a large network of cells known as the nerve cells and these nerve cells then communicate with each other through the chemicals, which are known as the neurotransmitters and these neurotransmitters then carry the signals from one nerve to another through the synapses that is present between the nerve cells. Through these neurotransmitters the nervous system then communicates with the body muscles and then communicates the message of the brain to move with how much power and in what direction and what body position to maintain while applying the power of the muscle.
Another very important factor that needs to be mentioned here is that the most important messenger that is being produced in the brain is the dopamine that is being made in the substantia nigra. The dopamine is a very important neurotransmitter in terms of maintaining the human movement and helps to transmit the messages to the striatum to initiate and control the movement as well as the balance of the body. The main function of the dopamine neurotransmitter is that it causes the muscles to work smoothly and give the precise control that is needed to perform the precise function of the specific muscles.
The process with which the dopamine message is relayed is that the nerve cell produces the dopamine that is collected at the end of the nerve and then the dopamine is then secreted into the synapses and then these dopamine particles flow into the synapse to the other top end of the nerve fiber into the pockets that are present on the head of the nerve cell and stimulate that nerve cell, which then initiates the same process in the other cell and this information then passes on and on till it reaches the last nerve cells from where the action is carried out.
A very important factor that really needs to be taken into account is that the dopamine that was in the pocket of the adjacent nerve cell after being released into the synapse, then is being ejected out of the pocket so that there is not a continuous effect that stays there that causes a constant release of the dopamine from the successive nerve cells, therefore the dopamine is then ejected out and then it is being broken down by the chemical known as MAO-B. The breakdown of the dopamine is essential in order to produce the precise movement that is needed.
Along with the dopamine, another transmitter that works in conjunction is the acetylcholine. Both these neurotransmitters work in conjunction. The balance is being maintained when the acetylcholine and the dopamine are present in the equal amounts, because acetylcholine and dopamine work together and if the balance is being disturbed then the movement process is all messed up because acetylcholine causes the contraction of the muscles where as the dopamine works to antagonize that effect and that is how a balanced movement takes place to perform the exact movement that is needed at that point in time.
What happens in Parkinson’s disease is not yet fully understood but the research has revealed that the part of the brain that produces the dopamine just starts to decrease. The dopamine is being made in the substantia nigra. Due to the low amount of dopamine being produced as well as the phenomena with which the dopamine is being continuously broken down just keeps on depleting the dopamine and this results in a great loss of this neurotransmitter and the balance between the dopamine and the acetylcholine just gets disturbed in which the dopamine is depleting where as the acetylcholine is in the normal amounts. Since there is high quantity of acetylcholine present now, which is actually the normal amount, but has become quite high because of the low amount of the dopamine present, this just results in prolonged contractions of the muscles, which was before being balanced by dopamine by cutting down the effect of acetylcholine. High amount of acetylcholine results in the uncoordinated movements, tremors, stiff muscles and joints and difficulty ambulating.
The team of biologists that has been working on finding the right drug for the Parkinson’s disease have said that they have found a new insight into the development of a drug that would clearly help in providing a better life to a lot of individuals who are suffering from the Parkinson’s disease.
In the Parkinson’s disease, there is presence of proteins, known as Lewy bodies, which is a pathological finding that is being found under the microscope. It is these bodies that are known to be really toxic to the neurons. The scientists are not sure as to why these proteins clump in the nerve cells. This mysterious protein is known asn the alpha synuclein. The scientists have said that they think that the presence of these clumps of proteins might be due to the breakdown of the neurotransmitters in large amounts in the synapses and due to congestion of the traffic of these neurotransmitters, it is possible that these neurotransmitters just get clumped in the nerve cell. The scientists have been able to make reverse the damage in the laboratory organisms by inserting the genes that cancels out the synuclein.
They said that since they are able to achieve to degrade the clumps down, this is a major breakthrough that they have achieved and they believe that after subsequent researches they will be able to make the breakthrough that will help to degrade the clumps in the nerve cells and that would be able to help millions and millions of people throughout the world.