A study carried out by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has explored the link between dopamine neurones, Parkinson’s disease, and psychiatric disorders. To read about this in more detail you can find the source press release here, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital website. Alternatively, you can read the published research in Nature Neuroscience by clicking here.
About Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease causes progressive damage to the brain and can lead to a wide range of psychological and physical symptoms. Three characteristic symptoms of the condition are tremors, slow movements, and stiff and inflexible muscles, but people affected by Parkinson’s disease may also experience symptoms such as depression, sleeping problems, and memory problems, amongst others. Parkinson’s disease is caused by a lack of the chemical dopamine in the brain. This is known to be because the nerve cells that produce the chemical have died. However, the reasons why this happens to people are still unclear.
What the Researchers Did
To investigate the role of dopamine in Parkinson’s disease and psychiatric disorders, researchers used a laser technique (called laser-capture RNA seq) to cut out more than 40,000 dopamine neurones from 86 post-mortem human brains. The team also carried out extremely detailed RNA sequencing on human brain cells. RNA is a type of code that can perform several functions in cells, including helping to use DNA codes to build proteins. Previous research has connected RNA behaviour to several diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases.
The researchers identified more than 70,000 new elements called ‘transcribed noncoding elements’, many of which were active and played a role in ‘switching on’ specific functions in brain neurones. Several of these elements were then studied in models, such as zebrafish, and were found to be active in brain development. Furthermore, there were links between several of the elements and genetic features of schizophrenia, addiction, and other neuropsychiatric diseases. Based on this study, a researcher concluded that the RNAs that were active in dopamine neurones showed connections “between genetic risk, Parkinson’s, and psychiatric disease.”