Losing the sense of smell could be an early sign of Parkinson's disease, scientists have revealed.
Dr. Silke Nuber, from the Department of Medical Genetics, University of Tubingen, Germany, has, therefore, suggested that a fast, simple and non invasive test of the ability to smell may be an important tool to screen people who are likely to develop the disease, in which motor symptoms only become evident at a later stage of the disease.
Nuber also said that her team's research could help in the development of treatments for the early stages of the disease.
She and colleagues from Germany, Switzerland, and the UK, decided to study transgenic mice with high levels of human alpha-synuclein, a protein known to be crucial in the development of PD.
Alpha-synuclein can be turned off in these animals by administration of an antibiotic, allowing scientists to look at the reversibility of neuropathological alterations.
"The mice expressed alpha-synuclein primarily in neurons of the olfactory bulb and we therefore expected to find alterations in smell-related behaviour in these animals. Since one of the earliest symptoms in PD patients is a reduction in the sense of smell, we felt that these mice could mimic the early stages of the disease," said Nuber.
The findings have been presented at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics.