According to a new study published in the journal Current Biology, Parkinson’s disease may be the result of brain cells that demand high levels of energy in order to control movement, which causes cells to overheat and burn out.
For the last three years, researchers at the University of Montreal in Canada have been investigating why the mitochondria inside cells in areas of the brain affected by Parkinson’s are overworked and burn out. Mitochondria are small powerhouses that produce energy for cells to function.
The team discovered that the cells in the brain areas contain complex structures with large branches and sites where chemical messengers are released, which suggests that this same complexity could be the reason for high demands of energy.
Researchers suggest that these complex neurons push the mitochondria to overwork in order to meet their energy demands, which explains their quick deterioration.
The team compared this process to an automobile motor: “a car that overheats will burn significantly more fuel, and not surprisingly, end up in the garage more often.”
Furthermore, as we age, the complexity could make the brain cells more vulnerable, as they are more likely to malfunction and die, which could trigger Parkinson’s disease.
The study’s lead researcher Louis-Eric Trudeau concludes: “From an evolutionary standpoint, some of our neurons are perhaps just not programmed to last 80, 90 or 100 years, as we are seeing more and more. It’s to be expected that certain parts of our body are less able to withstand the effects of time.”
Because Parkinson’s disease affects a small portion of the brain, researchers are hopeful that effective treatments will surface sooner rather than later.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Pacelli, C., et al., “Elevated Mitochondrial Bioenergetics and Axonal Arborization Size Are Key Contributors to the Vulnerability of Dopamine Neurons,” Current Biology August 27 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.07.050.
Paddock, C., “Parkinson’s disease may be result of ‘brain cell burnout’,” Medical News Today web site, August 31, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/298730.php.