Changes in the brain's serotonin system could be a critical early warning signal for Parkinson's disease and lead to the development of new screening tools for chronic diseases.
While Parkinson's has traditionally been thought to be due to damage to the brain's dopamine system, a group of researchers from King's Cross London (KCL) found that changes in the brain's serotonin system came first. These changes take many years before patients begin to show the movement and cognitive problems characteristic of the disease.
Marios Politis, Head of Neurodegenerative Imaging at KCL, said, "Our findings suggest that early detection of changes in the serotonin system could open doors to the development of new therapies to slow and, ultimately, slow the progression of Parkinson's disease to prevent."
People with Parkinson's have a buildup of the protein α-synuclein in their brains. While most cases have no clear cause, a minority of cases can be linked to genetic causes.
Mutations of the α-synuclein regulatory SNCA gene are extremely rare, but those with a clear cause are almost certainly developing Parkinson's disease.
The research team identified 1
Heather Wilson, a research associate at KCL, said, "We found that serotonin function is an excellent marker for the progression of Parkinson's disease. It is crucial that detectable changes in the serotonin system have been detected in undiagnosed patients.
"Therefore, imaging of the serotonin system in the brain could become a valuable tool for identifying people with a Parkinson's risk, monitoring their progression, and helping develop new therapies."
PET scans are expensive and difficult to perform, so more work is needed to develop a cost-effective and straightforward scanning device as a screening tool. The study of the early stages of the disease means that treatments can be developed to slow or stop the progression of the disease.