Yale School of Medicine researchers have identified a hormone produced in the stomach that can help boost resistance to, or slow, the development of Parkinson's disease.
Parkinson's disease is caused by a degeneration of dopamine neurons in an area of the midbrain known as the substantia nigra, which is responsible for dopamine production. Reduced production of dopamine in late-stage Parkinson's causes symptoms such as severe difficulty in walking, restricted movements, delays in moving, lack of appetite, difficulty eating, periods of remaining motionless (known as "freezing") and head and limb tremors.
Lead researcher Tamas Horvath has found that hormone ghrelin is protective of the dopamine neurons.
"We also found that, in addition to its influence on appetite, ghrelin is responsible for direct activation of the brain's dopamine cells," said Horvath, chair and professor of comparative medicine and professor of Neurobiology and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale School of Medicine.
"Because this hormone originates from the stomach, it is circulating normally in the body, so it could easily be used to boost resistance to Parkinson's or it could be used to slow the development of the disease," Hovarth added.
The researchers conducted the study in mice that received ghrelin supplementation and in mice that were deficient in ghrelin hormone and in the ghrelin receptor.
When compared to controls, mice with impaired ghrelin action in the brain had more loss of dopamine.
Horvath said the results could be easily translated to human use because the ghrelin system is preserved through various species.
The study is published in a recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.