In Parkinson’s, neurons that produce dopamine in a part of the brain known as the ‘substantial nigra’ die off progressively.
Dopamine neurons are vital for cognitive thinking and movement. Therefore, the loss of these neurons gradually over many years causes symptoms that worsen. These symptoms include tremors, muscle rigidity, difficulty while walking, and dementia.
Unfortunately, scientists are yet to find proven therapies that may delay or prevent the onset of Parkinson’s.
Drugs like L-DOPA cause a surge in dopamine levels in the brain and assist in dopamine nerve signaling which consequently helps alleviate motor symptoms. However, this drug does not slow or reduce the gradual loss of dopamine nerves.
Farnesol Found In Essential Oils May Help In Treating Parkinson’s
Therefore, the discovery by researchers of a compound that stops the killing off of dopamine neurons in a test on Parkinson-affected mice could pave the path to a change in treatment and therapy.
The compound, which is known as farnesol, is found naturally in plants and is a part of numerous essential oils. These essential oils include citronella, lemongrass, and balsam. It has been featured as an ingredient in the manufacture of perfumes for a very long time. It can also be found widely in animal tissues.
Professor David Dexter, an associate director of research at the charity Parkinson’s UK said that Parkinson’s is what occurs when cells that produce dopamine in the brain die. He added that the importance of this study was that it highlighted a new pathway that could potentially target and protect these brain cells.
Almost 10 million worldwide and 1 million people in the US are currently suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Statistically, it is the quickest growing neurological condition in the world.
Dexter mentioned that the requirement for a new therapy that could slow or stop Parkinson’s has never been more urgent.
He added that designing relatively more effective drugs which mirror the effects of farnesol would be the crucial next steps for scientists to make inroads into clinical trials and possibly play a major part in forming a new treatment.
The scientists involved in the study started by screening a huge library of drugs to find an element that inhibits a protein known as PARIS. This protein is implicated in the killing of dopamine neurons in Parkinson’s.
PARIS reduces the manufacture of a different protein, known as PGC-1 alpha. This protein shields the brain cells from highly reactive oxygen molecules.
If the levels of PGC-1 alpha are low, the reactive molecules gradually kill the cells.
In the process of screening, farnesol was identified as an effective inhibitor of PARIS. Importantly, people can ingest the drug through their mouths. It can also cross the blood-brain barrier in shield brain cells.
PARIS is chemically altered by farnesol. This process is known as farnesylation. The scientists were amused to find that in postmortem studies that levels of farnesylated PARIS were lesser in substantia nigra of individuals with Parkinson’s in contrast to controls.
These findings point towards the fact that reduced farnesylation of PARIS is involved in the death of dopamine neurons in Parkinson’s.
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Researchers fed mice either a regulated diet supplemented with farnesol or a regular diet for 1 week in order to investigate whether farnesol can protect neurons.
After this, they injected into the animals’ brains, fibrils of a misfolded protein known as alpha-synuclein which is a hallmark of Parkinson’s.
The mice that had consumed the diet that had been supplemented by farnesol went on to perform almost twice as well in tests of strength and coordination when compared to the mice that were on a normal diet.
The researchers discovered that the mice also had twice as many healthy dopamine neurons.
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