What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Before we get started with my “lesson” (blog post), I want to restate that I chose this because my best friend’s dad (who is basically my second dad) was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and I felt a real personal connection with studying it. I love to write and feel that I can present information better in a blog post, which is why I chose what I did.

*I tried to make it as bearable to read as possible*

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease. Parkinson’s disease is often seen in patients of over sixty-five years old, but can occur at any age. This being said, somewhere between five and ten percent of reported cases of Parkinson’s is “early onset” presenting itself in people under the age of 50. It has affected around half a million people in the United States, with around sixty thousand more being diagnosed each year. It has been found that fifty percent more men have Parkinson’s then women, although the disease has no prejudice against gender. The diagnosing is on the basis of the symptoms and a physical examination, as there are no current laboratory means of detecting Parkinson’s.
There are many defining characteristics of this disease, the most commonly know is the tremors. The symptoms include, but are not limited to: stiffness of limbs, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), difficulties with walking and balance, orthostatic hypotension (lightheadedness that may lead to fainting), sexual dysfunction, and excessive salivation as the patient swallows much less frequently. There are also metal symptoms that include depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and hallucinations.
As this is a neuroscience course, there has to be a neurological explanation for this right? Yes. Parkinson’s is known to be caused by the degeneration of nerves within the brain. One type of nerve affected by this is one that produce the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine, as we have learned, relays information from one part of the brain to another. Some specific structures that have been mentioned many times as I have researched this disease are the substantia nigra and the corpus striatum. The connection between these two structures is crucial for smooth, concise movement. The lack of dopamine causes impaired motor skills.
Another neurotransmitter that is shown to be affected by the degeneration of nerves is norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter is the major chemical messenger for the brain to the sympathetic nervous system (parts of the nervous system not encased in bone, which is basically everything other than brain and spinal cord.) This system controls many functions such as blood pressure and heart rate. This bit of information explains the fatigue and orthostatic hypotension.
On the more genetic side, there have been genes linked to Parkinson’s. If you care to know what these are, here you go: SNCA, PARK2, PARK7, PINK1, and LRRK2. So we know that Parkinson’s has a fondness for parks and the color pink… not trying to focus on stereotypical gender roles, but isn’t the pink thing strange considering the fact that fifty percent more men have Parkinson’s. WE ARE ON TO YOU MEN. But…. Seriously, make a mental note of SNCA as we will see him (or her) in just a moment.
Many people with Parkinson’s have shown to have Lewy Bodies in their brain. When doing a microscopic examination of the brain, these clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein show up. (Here’s where that SNCA comes in) SNCA is actually another name for the gene responsible for that protein I just mentioned, alpha-synuclein, and was actually THE first gene to be associated with Parkinson’s.
There are therapies and surgeries that people with Parkinson’s may undergo, however these don’t “cure” the patients, merely ease the symptoms. The disease will worsen as time progresses, but the gradual worsening vs dramatic worsening really depends on the individual. There could be someone after twenty(ish) years who are hardly disabled at all; at the same time, there are others who are completely disabled between five and ten years after diagnosis.

SOURCES:

http://www.patient.co.uk/health/parkinsons-disease

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/movement_disorders/conditions/parkinsons_disease.html

http://nihseniorhealth.gov/parkinsonsdisease/whatcausesparkinsonsdisease/01.html

Bear, Mark. “The Structure of the Nervous System.” Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. 172. Print.

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