Why a diabetes drug could help in Parkinson's disease

August 29, 2017, University of Tübingen
Cells imaged in an electron microscope. A mitochondrion of one cell is highlighted in red. Credit: Hartwig Wolburg / Universität Tübingen

A diabetes drug might help in certain types of Parkinson's disease, reports a team of German brain researchers headed by Dr. Julia Fitzgerald at the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Tübingen. The neuroscientists identified a protein that plays an important role in the energy balance of cells. If the protein is missing, the energy balance is disturbed leading possibly to cell death and ultimately to the onset of the disease. In Parkinson's disease, nerve cells die off in a brain area responsible for movement control. Using cell cultures, the research team has now shown that the diabetes drug metformin acts on the energy budget, thereby protecting the cells. The study has been published in the current issue of the journal Brain.

"When studying from a patient suffering from Parkinson's disease we saw that they lack an important protein which regulates the energy production," explains Fitzgerald. As a result, the cells keep on producing energy in their mitochondria—the cells' powerhouses—unchecked and less regulated. Energy production comes at the cost of the generation of free oxygen radicals. The radicals damage the cell and lead to aging and, in the long term, sometimes to cell death. "The diabetes drug acts like a brake in this process. It slows down the uncontrolled generation of energy, thereby protecting the cells from the negative effects," the researcher reports.

The study by the Tübingen neuroscientists provides another indication that diabetes drugs might have a positive influence on certain types of Parkinson's disease. "Only recently, an Anglo-American research collaboration showed that another can reduce movement disorder symptoms in patients with Parkinson's disease," says Fitzgerald. The new findings of Fitzgerald and her colleagues contribute to the development of personalized medicine which aims at treating the disease with interventions tailored to the underlying individual trigger factor in each patient. In Parkinson's disease, both hereditary predisposition and environmental influences play a role in the development of the disease. "Ultimately, the cause varies from person to person," explains Fitzgerald. "In the long term, our study will be beneficial to patients suffering from faulty in cells." At present, there are no drugs available that may stop or slow down Parkinson's disease, physicians may only treat symptoms. Worldwide, there are about 10 million people affected by the disease.

Explore further: Getting closer to treatment for Parkinson's

More information: Metformin reverses TRAP1 mutation-associated alterations in mitochondrial function in Parkinson's disease. Brain, doi.org/10.1093/brain/awx202

Related Stories

Getting closer to treatment for Parkinson's

January 23, 2017
More than 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson's disease. The cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown and thus no effective treatments exist. A study from the University of Bergen (UiB) suggests that the secret of the ...

Drug discovery: Alzheimer's and Parkinson's spurred by same enzyme

July 3, 2017
Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease are not the same. They affect different regions of the brain and have distinct genetic and environmental risk factors.

Conversion of brain cells offers hope for Parkinson's patients

April 11, 2017
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have made significant progress in the search for new treatments for Parkinson's disease. By manipulating the gene expression of non-neuronal cells in the brain, they were able to produce ...

Mitochondrial lipids as potential targets in early onset Parkinson's disease

February 10, 2017
A team of researchers led by Patrik Verstreken (VIB–KU Leuven) have identified an underlying mechanism in early onset Parkinson's. Using flies, mice and patient cells, the team focused on cardiolipin, a fat unique to cells' ...

Key cause of Parkinson's disease can be treated

December 1, 2016
A new Australian study that models the early stages of Parkinson's disease has given researchers insight into its causes and a possible treatment.

Cell disposal faults could contribute to Parkinson's, study finds

January 24, 2017
A fault with the natural waste disposal system that helps to keep our brain cell 'batteries' healthy may contribute to neurodegenerative disease, a new study has found.

Recommended for you

Parkinson's disease 'jerking' side effect detected by algorithm

January 8, 2018
A mathematical algorithm that can reliably detect dyskinesia, the side effect from Parkinson's treatment that causes involuntary jerking movements and muscle spasms, could hold the key to improving treatment and for patients ...

New brainstem changes identified in Parkinson's disease

January 4, 2018
A pioneering study has found that patients with Parkinson's disease have more errors in the mitochondrial DNA within the brainstem, leading to increased cell death in that area.

Caffeine level in blood may help diagnose people with Parkinson's disease

January 3, 2018
Testing the level of caffeine in the blood may provide a simple way to aid the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, according to a study published in the January 3, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the ...

Researchers shed light on why exercise slows progression of Parkinson's disease

December 22, 2017
While vigorous exercise on a treadmill has been shown to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease in patients, the molecular reasons behind it have remained a mystery.

Robotic device improves balance and gait in Parkinson's disease patients

December 19, 2017
Some 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD) every year. The American Institute of Neurology estimates there are one million people affected with this neurodegenerative disorder, with 60 years ...

New findings point to potential therapy for Parkinson's Disease

December 19, 2017
A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), sheds light on a mechanism underlying Parkinson's disease and suggests that Tacrolimus—an existing drug that targets the toxic protein interaction ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.