Exercise, the brain, and PD research

More evidence of the benefits of exercise on cognition in this New York Times article on exercise boosting levels of a substance (BDNF) thought to help in the regeneration of brain cells.

The article brings to mind the controversial trials of GDNF, an enzyme thought to help in the creation of new neurons, or brain cells. Amgen halted the trail because of safety concerns; some thought those fears were overblown. A complex case, for sure; an expert panel found no difference between placebo and GDNF, and noted that some in the trial developed anti-GDNF antibodies.

So maybe there still some hunt left in that neurotrophic growth factor dog, after all?

Advanced Imaging Redefining Neurologic Research

New imaging technologies are leading to new insight into the way the brain as a whole is affected by everything from dyslexia to stroke to mental illness, according to a report from the American Neurological Association’s annual meeting this week in San Francisco.

That should be good news to people with Parkinson’s, and the researchers who love them. Dopamine replacement therapy has helped many of us, but it’s never been enough by itself to calm tremors or ease stiffness and rigidity, or help restore cognition. It’s long been apparent that multiple systems are affected by the loss of dopamine, and that there may very well be other neurotransmitters that are out of whack — substances that modern science hasn’t yet identified.

The brain may be yielding its secrets at an accelerating rate, but we still know only a tiny fraction of what’s really in there.

PD and Your Sense of Smell

People with Parkinson’s have been shown to have an impaired sense of smell. In fact, the sense of smell can become impaired up to four years before the onset of PD symptoms. Strange, eh? I can testify to this personally.

The theory is that the olfactory bulb — the unit that sends information about smells back to the rest of the brain — is somehow involved in the process of making new cells in the nervous system. Scientists believe that certain kinds of stem cells travel a raceway from the back of the brain all the way forward to the end in one’s beak. Problems with this system start to show up around the same time that problems develop in the part of the brain affected by PD. That’s the idea, anyway.

So here comes a study of the sense of smell in people who have had DBS surgery (like me). It turns out that the sense of smell improves in people who had DBS, versus those who are sticking with meds. This adds to the allure of other random factoids about DBS supposedly having an ability to slow the otherwise steady progression of the disease. Here’s hoping. This article is a tough slog, but you can just skip down to the last page for a relatively clear summary:

Olfactory Symptoms in Parkinsons on ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.

Sniffing out the source of new brain cells

Many people with Parkinson’s have a problem with their sense of smell. Scientists in recent years have identified the olfactory bulb as a place where new nervous system cells can be generated. Some think the two facts are related.

With the discovery that both GABA-ergic and, now, glutamatergic cells are generated in this area in mice, how long will it take to discover that, maybe, dopaminergic cells can be generated in this region, too?

The findings are significant because it would open up another possible line of attack toward a cure in humans: by stimulating the body’s own production of the specific type of cell that is being killed off in Parkinson’s. Converting stem cells in a laboratory is diabolically difficult, despite the headlines. Stimulating cell growth in the patient reduces the risk of tissue rejection and moots the whole stem-cell issue.

Read more:  New source discovered for generation of nerve cells in brain.