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Common Drug May Stop Parkinson's

Tuesday, 12 June 2007 12:00 AM

Isradipine, a drug commonly used to treat blood pressure and stroke, slows Parkinson's disease and may even stop it in its tracks. Brightsurf.com reported that Northwestern University researchers found that the drug treats Parkinson's by restoring levels of dopamine in the brain.

Parkinson's disease occurs when cells in the brain that produce dopamine die. Dopamine is a chemical messenger produced by neurons in the brain that sends signals which help the body control its movements. When they begin to die, movements become harder to control and eventually the victim loses the ability to walk and talk. Isradipine invigorates aging dopamine cells and restores their function to more youthful levels.

D. James Surmeier of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and his colleagues studied the electrical activity in the brain. They knew that dopamine neurons work non-stop, just like pacemaker cells in the heart. But although most pacemaking neurons use sodium ions (similar to table salt) to produce electrical signals, adult dopamine cells use calcium ions instead. Calcium ions are uncontrollable and have to be monitored constantly by the cell to keep them from causing trouble.

"It's a little like having a room full of two year olds you have to watch like a hawk so they don't get into trouble," Surmeier said. "That is really going to stress you." He began to theorize that the constant stress on the cells made them more vulnerable to dying early.

Surmeier found that early in life, dopamine neurons used harmless sodium ions, but switched to the troublesome calcium irons as they aged. He began to wonder what would happen if he blocked the calcium ions from entering the adult neuron cells.

When mice were given isradipine, it blocked the calcium from entering dopamine cells and the cells reverted to using sodium ions. "This lowers the cells' stress level and makes them much more resistant to any other insult that's going to come along down the road," said Surmeier. "They start acting like they're youngsters again."

Hopefully, calcium channel blockers that are already used to reduce blood pressure might also control, or prevent, Parkinson's.

"Our hope is that this drug will protect dopamine neurons, so that if you began taking it early enough, you won't get Parkinson's disease, even if you were at risk," said Surmeier. "It would be like taking a baby aspirin everyday to protect your heart."

About one million people in the United States have Parkinson's disease. It is second only to Alzheimer's disease as the most common degenerative brain disease.

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Isradipine, a drug commonly used to treat blood pressure and stroke, slows Parkinson's disease and may even stop it in its tracks. Brightsurf.com reported that Northwestern University researchers found that the drug treats Parkinson's by restoring levels of dopamine in the...
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Tuesday, 12 June 2007 12:00 AM
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