A hormone produced in the stomach may be used to provide resistance to, or slow, the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by a degeneration of dopamine neurons in an area of the midbrain known as the substantia nigra, which is responsible for dopamine production.
Yale researcher Tamas Horvath and colleagues found that the hormone ghrelin is protective of the dopamine neurons.
When the dopamine cells get sick and die, Parkinson’s can develop. “We also found that, in addition to its influence on appetite, ghrelin is responsible for direct activation of the brain’s dopamine cells,” said Horvath.
“Because this hormone originates from the stomach, it is circulating normally in the body, so it could easily be used to boost resistance to Parkinson’s or it could be used to slow the development of the disease.”
Horvath and colleagues conducted the study in mice that received ghrelin supplementation and in mice that were deficient in ghrelin hormone and in the ghrelin receptor. When compared to controls, mice with impaired ghrelin action in the brain had more loss of dopamine. Horvath said the results could be easily translated to human use because the ghrelin system is preserved through various species.
Ghrelin was previously associated with the release of growth hormones, appetite, learning, memory, and with the reward circuitry of the brain that regulates food cravings. Recent human studies show that body mass index, stored fat and diabetes are linked to Parkinson’s disease. Past research also shows that obesity is a risk factor for neurodegeneration in mice.
In future work, Horvath and his team will try to determine ghrelin levels in both healthy individuals and Parkinson’s patients. He will also determine whether altered ghrelin levels might be a biomarker of disease development and vulnerability.
Source: Yale University