Parkinson's Disease Brain cells 'burn out'
Researchers in Canada have discovered that specific brain cells burn out like an "overheating motor" in people with Parkinson's disease.
A University of Montreal team believes it may have found a significant clue to how the illness develops, and why only small areas of the brain are damaged.
Parkinson's affects 127,000 people in the UK and is caused by the loss of some nerve cells in the brain. But scientists have been unable to explain why these particular cells are vulnerable.
Sufferers experience inflexibility, stiffness, slow movement and sometimes a pronounced tremor.
Details of the research, which studied mice cells, appears in Current Biology.
The team discovered that neurons most often involved in Parkinson's disease were complex and had many more branches than other, similar brain cells.
They also had far higher energy requirements, which led to the production of more waste products. Research suggests that the build-up of these wastes causes cells to die.
Prof Louis-Eric Trudeau said: "Like a motor constantly running at high speed, these neurons need to produce an incredible amount of energy to function. They appear to exhaust themselves and die prematurely."
The researchers hope their findings will help to create better experimental models of Parkinson's and identify new treatments.
One possibility is that medication could be developed to reduce the cells energy requirements, or make them more energy efficient.
Dr Arthur Roach, Parkinson's UK director of research said he hoped the study would lead to innovation in treating the condition.
"Out of the billions of cells in the brain, it is always the same small group that degenerate and die in Parkinson's. We don't know why only these cells are affected," he said.
"This study provides strong support to the idea that it is the unique structure and function of these cells that makes them especially susceptible to a damaging process called oxidative stress.
"Past attempts to develop treatments targeting oxidative stress unfortunately have not been successful.
"We hope that this study will rekindle interest in the approach, and even lead to new treatments based on the most up-to-date ideas about oxidative stress."