Excess lipids in nerve cells may trigger Parkinson’s disease

Researchers have discovered an imbalance in the amounts of fatty molecules called lipids inside the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s disease. A buildup of lipids in nerve cells may cause inflammation.

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that gets progressively worse over time.

The death of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the substantia nigra region of the brain causes the illness. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays several vital roles, including regulating motivation, reward, and movement.

However, the exact train of events leading to the death of dopamine-producing cells remains unclear.

Researchers have focused much of their attention on a misfolded form of a protein called alpha-synuclein as the trigger for Parkinson’s. Studies have found toxic clumps or aggregates of the misfolded protein in the brains of people with the disease.

However, an alternative theory proposes that lipid dysregulation and inflammation play a more important role, similar to the part played by fatty plaques and inflammation in the walls of arteries in cardiovascular disease.

Researchers at the Neuroregeneration Institute at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, have now discovered an accumulation of lipids in dopamine-producing neurons in the postmortem brains of people who had Parkinson’s.

The excess amounts of lipid in these nerve cells correlate with changes in lipid levels in neighboring cells called microglia and astrocytes. They also found evidence of inflammation.

When the researchers simulated a breakdown of lipid metabolism in an animal model of the disease, they saw remarkably similar changes.

“These results support our lipid-inflammation hypothesis in the causation of Parkinson’s disease initiation and progression,” says senior author Dr. Ole Isacson, who is the founding director of the Neuroregeneration Institute and a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA.

“[The results] may help us discover and develop new therapies by leaving behind conventional thinking about [Parkinson’s disease] pathology, which to some extent has been limited to neurons and protein aggregates,” he adds.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists compared postmortem brain tissue from 26 individuals with Parkinson’s with 23 age-matched controls without the disease.

They used fluorescent lipid-binding molecules to determine lipid levels in different brain cells in the substantia nigra.

In brain tissue from people with Parkinson’s, there was an accumulation of lipids inside dopamine nerve cells, which was matched by a deficiency of lipids within astrocytes in the same samples.

Astrocytes are star-shaped cells that support nerve cells, both structurally and through the exchange of nutrients and their byproducts.

In their paper, the researchers note that nerve cells have a limited capacity to use lipids for energy, with excess amounts being transported to neighboring astrocytes to avoid the buildup of toxic byproducts.

This did not seem to be happening correctly in the brains of individuals with Parkinson’s.

Compared with healthy brain tissue, the scientists also found excess amounts of lipid inside microglia, which are the brain’s immune cells.

They also discovered high levels of a signaling molecule called GPNMB. Scientists know that

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Schenectady practice helping to eliminate nerve pain

SCHENECTADY — Cyndie Powell loves to cook.

But her lower back pain and sciatica were so bad that she had to sit on a stool in her kitchen in order to cook. She couldn’t stand the pain from standing after just five minutes.

Powell, a resident of Schuylerville who works as a program manager and financial consultant for 1st Scotia Wealth Management, tried everything to dull the pain.

She tried over-the-counter pain relievers and massage. She visited a chiropractor. And she didn’t want to get surgery.

“Nothing really ever made the pain go away,” Powell said.

Until she met Laura Brown, a physical therapist and massage therapist in Schenectady who earlier this year invested in buying and getting trained to operate a electrical stimulation, or eSTIM, medical device made by a company called Calmare.

The machine has the ability to target five separate parts of the body by sending electronic pulses that “reset” the nerves, making them essentially forget the pain. The device can help with fibromyalgia, migraines, sciatica, neuropathy and what is known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.


Brown’s business is known as Capital Region Calmare. She operates the only licensed Calmare facility in the local area. Until now, patients who wanted to try the technology would have to travel to Stony Brook on Long Island. Brown has continued to operate her massage business as well.

“I’ve seen firsthand the extraordinary pain relief it’s provided to individuals who have tried traditional treatments, sometimes for years, without success,” Brown said, “There is no better feeling than giving someone his or her life back by re-introducing them to a world without pain, and to do so without any side effects, drugs or surgical procedures is a huge benefit.”

The treatment by the device is not covered by insurance, although some of the physical therapy done as part of the treatment is. The initial session when Brown evaluates a patient costs $100, while each subsequent session costs $250, although Brown offers 10 treatments at a discount for $2,000.

Powell, who has been working from home during the pandemic but travels an hour for treatments, said she got relief after each treatment. The pain would come back to a degree after each one.

But after four sessions, Powell said the pain went away for good. And there was no pain or side effects. She says the electronic therapy is a great alternative to opioids that are often prescribed for back pain. Patients often need more than four sessions.

“It was like a miracle,” Powell said.

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