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What is Parkinson’s?

Hello there,

My new post after a very long time..,Excited!!!

Recently I had applied for an Internship announced by the CSIR-CDRI, lucknow. They got in touch with me and had asked me to write a well versed sample article on Parkinson’s disease. But unfortunately the internship closed before I could finish my article (Bummer). But I didn’t want my half finished work to get wasted , and that’s why I am posting it here.

Also before when I was writing this for an internship, “I HAD STRINGS BUT, NOW I AM FREE”, cause this is my blog!(MINE) and I can improvise as much as I want. So without much ado, let’s dive right in.

ultron image with caption
….I have no Strings…

The first thing about parkinson’s is that it’s not actually a disease , it’s a disorder, affecting dopamine production (Dopamine.., it’s just a fancy name for the neurotransmitter controlling movement and some other things). The effect of this disorder in the production of dopamine and the symptoms due to this disorder manifested in it’s patients are collectively termed the Parkinson’s disease. The most common symptom associated with Parkinson’s is the tremors and shakes that the patients get. While it may be tempting to shake your body to the rumba beat , It’s doubtful that you would fancy your body shaking vigorously for hours on end!

Jim Carrey, the Mask movie poster.
Cuban Pete…Rumba Beat Pic Courtesy:Jim Carrey Online

Mr.Parkinson:

Just like you guessed, this disorder is named after a person, Mr.James Parkinson.

James Parkinson image with Date of birth
Dr.James Parkinson Pic Courtesy: Kintera.org

He was a surgeon and an APOTHECARY,(Wait… what does it mean? Well , an Apothecary means a person who formulates and sells medicines to doctors and to patients. It is a pretty archaic and cool term for today’s Pharmacists). Also this guy was a geologist and a paleontologist!( Can’t say which was his hobby… paleontology or….SURGERY!!).

Mr. Parkinson was the first person who identified all the different symptoms of this disease as to belong to the same disease. He named it THE SHAKING PALSY in his research article on the subject “An essay on the Shaking Palsy” (It is available for you to read).In his article he talks a lot about the confusion among doctors and nosologists (NO..definitely no, Nosologists did not have large Noses, they just classified Diseases) who treated the symptoms of this disorder as different diseases. To honor him and to prevent confusion, (cause people confused shaking palsy with other palsies) this disease was named as Parkinson’s Disease. But in my not so humble opinion, it’s definitely not an honor, to have a disease named after you.

Anyway, What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s Disease is a Progressive, Neurodegenerative disorder affecting the Dopamine producing ,neuromelanin pigmented neurons of the substantia nigra region of the brain’s basal ganglia.Pretty intense huh? Let me break that for you,

  • Progressive- means it worsens over time, i.e the effect of this disease increases as the patient ages, (Note, we are not talking about the increase in disease incidence),
  • Neurodegenerative- meaning it affects the neurons(nerve cells) leading to their degeneration (Destruction, Ka..Boom) making the patients actual degenerates,
  • Dopamine pro….etc- I said it affects neurons , but which neurons? This disorder specifically affects the neurons present in the substantia nigra ( A region of the mid brain present in the basal ganglia). The neurons present in this substantia nigra have a melanin like pigment called neuromelanin (Melanin is what gives your skin color) .The presence of this neuromelanin makes this region black,( I guess that explains the term Nigra).

Dopamine:

graphic image of dopamine chemical structure
…Dopamine…Courtesy: Wikimedialimages

What is Dopamine? Well Dopamine is a Neurotransmitter. Well then what is a neurotransmitter? Let me explain it with this analogy,

Our body, its like a Federal Republic. Our brain is the Federal (or Central) Government . It controls everything. All the other organs, like states (or provinces) act under it with certain autonomy. Here blood vessels, and Nerves are like highways. While blood transports materials, like oxygen, nutrients and all, nerves act like an exclusive governmental hotline for sending messages between the brain and the organs.The messagesare sent in the form of chemical signals.Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that transmit these signals. Dopamine is one such neurotransmitter which is responsible for the transmission of signals related to movement control (It also signals reward motivated behavior but its a topic for another day).

Since parkinson’s affects the production of dopamine (less substantia nigra neurons=less dopamine in brain) , it leads to potholes in the neural (nerve) network ,thus causing the tremors and shakes.

image of neurons
…..Neural Network …Courtesy:ColiN00B

What Causes It?

Well, for now we have seen that Parkinson’s affects the substantia nigra neurons, but why? What causes it?

Image showing difference between the brains of a normal and a parkinson's affected person
Notice the relatively smaller substantia Nigra in affected brain. Pic: Dreamstime.com

Actually that question can’t be answered right now. For now we don’t know the exact cause for this disorder , we can only speculate. A recent study (1) done by German researchers suggest that Parkinson’s is an autoimmune disorder. In their research they collected skin cells from healthy subjects and subjects with Parkinson’s and used the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC) technology (It’s a cutting edge tech, not unlike magic! that converts a somatic cell into a stem cell that can be again converted into any type of cell). They used the iPSC tech to convert those skin  cells into the Substantia nigra nerve cells. Finally the researchers mixed the subject’s respective  T-lymphocytes with these hotly made pigmented substantia nigra neurons.

researcher holding transparent container with ink liquid
iPSC research representation ,Courtesy:Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

They observed that the Th-17 cells added to the Parkinson’s affected system caused the death of Neurons while the healthy system continued to be healthy. This however establishing the cause of neuronal cell death fails to explain what makes the immune system consider the neurons as a threat. For now scientists have speculated that this could be due to Genetic mutations that somehow made our very own WBC to turn against the pigmented neurons.

Here an important thing to note is that, the pigment neuromelanin increases with age. So older people have more Neuromelanin than young people. The incidence of Parkinson’s also increases with age. Maybe a genetic mutation affected the neuromelanin of the parkinson’s patients leading to the aforementioned effects…who knows, we can speculate. Also the nerve cells of Parkinson’s patients are found to contain something called Lewy Bodies.

Lewy Bodies are abnormal, aggregates of protein (spherical bodies) that were found inside the nerve cells of Parkinson patients. It’s possible that they too play an important role in the activities of this disease.

Why We Should Be Focusing On Parkinson’s:

Today this disease is believed to be affecting an approximate seven to TEN MILLION (that’s One Crore) people worldwide. Most of them are Sexagenarians (60-69), Septuagenarians(70-79), Octogenarians(80-89), and also some nonagenarians and centagenarians. With an aging world population the occurrence of Parkinson’s is only set to increase.

Well, let the aging superpowers worry about it why should we Indians care about this, we are the youngest nation in the world, right?

group of indian children taking photo
…India has the world’s largest reserve of young people…Pic Courtesy:Rebecca Zaal

Yeah we may be having the world’s largest reserve of young people, which would be a  whooping 60% of our population by 2050, but a recent Government report says that in the year 2050, India will have 340 million (34 crores) people above 60 years of age. They   would be comprising 20% of our population. So India TOO SHOULD CARE.

Also having the world’s largest reserve of young people means that we have a moral obligation to solve this problem on behalf of others. So it’s imperative that we focus on this disease.

Sources:

  1. Th17 Lymphocytes Induce Neuronal Cell Death in a
    Human iPSC-Based Model of Parkinson’s Disease by Sommer, A., Maxreiter, F., Krach, F., Fadler, T., Grosch, J., Maroni, M., … Winner, B. (2018). Th17 Lymphocytes Induce Neuronal Cell Death in a Human iPSC-Based Model of Parkinson’s Disease. Cell Stem Cell, 23(1), 123–131.e6. doi:10.1016/j.stem.2018.06.015 
  2. Wikipedia,Google and Quora -for clearing occasional doubts,
  3. An Essay On The Shaking Palsy -Mr.James Parkinson.
  4. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/demographic-time-bomb-young-india-ageing-much-faster-than-expected/articleshow/65382889.cms

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