Parkinson’s disease seems tantalizingly simple. Whereas most of the functioning of the brain is overwhelmingly complex, at least this one disorder seems simple, straightforward, and amenable to human intervention. Mostly, a restricted population of cells (dopaminergic neurons) is lost, and it seems that the loss of striatal dopamine can, in effect, be partially replaced by administration of a drug (L-DOPA). L-DOPA simply helps the brain to produce the substance (dopamine) that the lost dopamine-producing cells normally produce. These cells don’t send projections to everywhere in the brain, just a few areas, and just two of these brain regions (the caudate and putamen) seem to be responsible for almost the entire syndrome of Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, if we can just find a way to restore this one simple circuit, the disease might be cured. So it appeared in 1977, and still, it seems that it might just be that simple.
Cellular Neurobiology Research Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Baltimore, MD, 21224
Publication date: January 1, 2004
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