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New Protein Biomarker Could Help Detect Parkinsonian Disorders Early

TAIPEI, TAIWAN, Sep 28, 2023- Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have made a groundbreaking discovery that could revolutionize the early detection of Parkinsonian disorders. These disorders, including conditions such as Parkinson's disease and dementia with Lewy bodies, are among the most prevalent neurodegenerative diseases. While it has long been suspected that the damage to brain cells begins before any noticeable symptoms manifest, there hasn't been a reliable method to detect these conditions early—until now.

Lewy body disease, also known as Lewy body dementia (LBD), is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits termed Lewy bodies in the brain. It primarily affects older adults, presenting unique challenges and symptoms that impact daily life.

In a recent study published in Nature Aging, the scientists examined cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood plasma samples from a cohort of 428 individuals. This cohort comprised both healthy individuals and those diagnosed with Lewy body disease, a prevalent form of Parkinsonian disorder. Using a specialized test, they analyzed the levels of 2,943 distinct proteins in these samples.

What they found was truly remarkable. Patients with Lewy body disease exhibited elevated levels of a protein named DOPA decarboxylase in their CSF. This protein is instrumental in converting levodopa into dopamine, a chemical that's diminished in the brains of Parkinson's patients. Intriguingly, high levels of DOPA decarboxylase were detected in the CSF of individuals in the early phases of Lewy body disease, even before any cognitive impairments became evident. This indicates that DOPA decarboxylase might be a promising marker for identifying preclinical cases and predicting how they might progress to the full-blown disease.

The researchers theorize the rise in DOPA decarboxylase levels in these patients might be a a compensatory mechanism by brain cells that typically depend on dopamine, given the deficiency of this vital neurotransmitter.

Furthermore, this discovery wasn't exclusive to one type of Parkinsonian disorder. Even individuals with atypical Parkinsonian disorders, like multiple system atrophy, exhibited elevated levels of DOPA decarboxylase in their CSF. Notably, this trend wasn't observed in individuals with other neurodegenerative diseases that weren't Parkinsonian in nature.

Here's the encouraging part: measuring plasma biomarkers is more straightforward than testing CSF. In examining the blood plasma of 174 individuals, the researchers found that DOPA decarboxylase levels were significantly elevated in patients with Lewy body disease and atypical Parkinsonian disorders compared to healthy counterparts.

The researchers posit that DOPA decarboxylase could be a unique and highly promising biomarker for Lewy body disease and atypical Parkinsonian disorders. They also recommend pairing DOPA decarboxylase testing with another test, the α-synuclein seed amplification assay, to differentiate more precisely between Lewy body disease and other Parkinsonian disorders more accurately.

While these findings are promising, it's crucial to recognize that further research is required to validate them. The scientists underscore the importance for further studies across diverse populations and over extended periods to fully grasp the clinical relevance of DOPA decarboxylase as a biomarker for Parkinsonian disorders. Nonetheless, this discovery marks a significant stride towards the early detection and improved management of these debilitating conditions.


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