Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, and the second most common neurogenic disorder behind Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s disease was initially identified more than 200 years and within those two centuries, a great deal of knowledge related to this crippling disease has been obtained. Although all of the mechanistic details associated with Parkinson’s has not been elucidated, there is still a signifiant amount of research that can be built off of in the years to come in order to find the best methods of treatment and prevention. While going through the important literature surrounding Parkinson’s disease, I have identified a few main themes that will be the cornerstones of my project.
- The first theme has to do with the characterization and pathology of the disease, and how it has changed over time. Parkinson’s was first described by James Parkinson in 1817. Years later, more and more information about this disease aside from the very clear symptoms (primarily issues with motor functions) became available as a result of critical research. This includes the identification of Lewy bodies, which are essential to many neurodegenerative disorders besides Parkinson’s, as well as the development of staging techniques that would be used to identify the level of disease progression in patients. This theme allows for the inclusion of very early research that became the basis for our understanding of how PD works, and how it affects the body.
- The second theme within the literature involves the more intricate biochemistry that is occurring in Parkinson’s disease. Much of the more recent work with this disease has identified Lewy bodies, more specifically alpha-synuclein aggregates which form Lewy bodies, as being the main culprits behind the neurodegenerative properties of PD. Over time, the understanding of how alpha-synuclein aggregation influences the progression has improved. Rather than solely recognizing alpha-synuclein as being involved in the processes, researchers now have a better idea of where the aggregation is occurring specifically within the brain, and are now working on how mechanistically it is occurring, and how to prevent it. Additionally, a percentage of Parkinson’s cases are the result of genetic mutation rather than natural occurrence due to aging. Numerous genes and mutations have been identified throughout the years, and I will touch on many of them. However, given the great number of genes out there, I will focus more on the SNCA gene, which was actually the first Parkinson’s disease related gene that was discovered.
- My final theme has to do with the various methods of treatment that have come and gone over the last 200 or so years. In the past, many thought that an incredibly invasive surgery would be the best method, but this turned out to not be the case. Other subsequent treatment ideas surfaced, but none of these had quite the same impact as L-DOPA treatments that became popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This treatment changed the way that researchers looked at the disease, and over time influenced new treatments. Additionally, as the overall understanding of the disease and how it functions was improved, new ideas were formulated and tested. Within this theme, I could also look at where the research is going into the future, and see what researchers think could be the next best methods of treatment.
Parkinson’s disease research has seemingly ramped up in the past couple of decades, and it would seem that as our technology and research methods improve, so will our ability to learn more about this disease. In the future, the keys to treating Parkinson’s will be made possible if they mechanism behind alpha-synuclein aggregation occurs, and how to eliminate these aggregations in patients who are already suffering from PD. This could include research into cytokine signaling and the immunoproteasome, or perhaps another method that no one has seen before. These are certainly exciting times in the scientific community, as it seems as though everyday we get closer and closer to treating diseases that have plagued our societies for centuries. But while it is intriguing to think about the future, it is also important to look into the past to see how we have gotten here, in order to inspire new ideas that could change the future of treatment.