Dopamine may play dual role in Parkinson’s disease

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Researchers close in on answer to longstanding mystery

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, “Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects between one and one-and-a-half million Americans. Because it is not contagious and does not have to be reported by physicians, the incidence of the disease is often underestimated. PD may appear at any age, but it is uncommon in people younger than 30, and the risk of developing it increases with age. It occurs in all parts of the world, and men are affected slightly more often than women.” Researchers at Harvard Medical School have been trying to understand the underlying causes of Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by a lack of the chemical messenger dopamine in the brain. The best available treatment for Parkinson’s involves restoring dopamine to the patient, which alleviates many symptoms, at least for awhile. However, a research team led by Peter Lansbury, and including Kelly Conway and Jean-Christophe Rochet, recently found that dopamine may have another role in the disease, playing a supporting role for protofibrils, which Lansbury believes help cause Parkinson’s. The research, published in the Nov. 9, 2001, journal Science, contributes to the knowledge about Parkinson’s disease and suggests ways to improve therapy.