In a novel study, researchers at Columbia University Medical Centre have identified a trio of molecules that are responsible for killing brain cells in Parkinson's patients.
They have showed that three molecules - the neurotransmitter dopamine, a calcium channel, and a protein called alpha-synuclein - act together to kill the neurons.
The symptoms of Parkinson's - including uncontrollable tremors and difficulty in moving arms and legs - are blamed on the loss of neurons from the substantia nigra region of the brain.
"Though the interactions among the three molecules are complex, the flip side is that we now see that there are many options available to rescue the cells," said Dr Eugene Mosharov, associate research scientist and study's author.
The researchers showed that neurons die because calcium channels lead to an increase of dopamine inside the cell; excess dopamine then reacts with alpha-synuclein to form inactive complexes; and then the complexes gum up the cell's ability to dispose of toxic waste that builds up in the cell over time. The waste eventually kills the cell.
The neurons will survive if just one of the three factors is missing, said the researchers.
"It may be possible to save neurons and stop Parkinson's disease by interfering with just one of the three factors," Dr. Mosharov added.
The researchers hope that a drug already in clinical trials - which blocks the culprit calcium channel - may work to slow or stop the progression of the disease.
The study is published in journal Neuron.