Researchers have discovered that Parkinson’s disease may manifest in the brain many years before patients show any symptoms, paving the way for new screening tools to identify people at greatest risk.
The finding has been published in the journal The Lancet Neurology by scientists from King’s College London.
According to the study, the results provide the first evidence of a central role for the brain chemical ‘serotonin’ in the earliest stages of Parkinson’s disease.
The scientists believe that changes to this system, which is used to regulate mood, sleep and movement, could act as a “key early warning signal for the disease”.
Commenting on the discovery, Chief investigator Professor Marios Politis, Lily Safra Professor of Neurology & Neuroimaging at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), said: “Parkinson’s disease has traditionally been thought of as occurring due to damage in the dopamine system, but we show that changes to the serotonin system come first, occurring many years before patients begin to show symptoms.
“Our results suggest that early detection of changes in the serotonin system could open doors to the development of new therapies to slow, and ultimately prevent, progression of Parkinson’s disease.”
Parkinson’s is a rare disease which progressively damages parts of the brain over a number of years. Approximately one in 500 people will develop the disease over their lifetime, which is characterised by involuntary shaking of the body, slow movement, and stiff and inflexible muscles.
No cure currently exists, but treatment can be used to control symptoms and help people affected by the disease live a more comfortable life.
The scientists believe that early detection of the disease could help slow, and “ultimately prevent”, progression of symptoms.