Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gender differences in Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson's Genetic Research: Drs. Michael A. Schwarzschild; Anne B. Young

Researchers at MIND are exploring intriguing data from epidemiological studies to unlock the mysteries of Parkinson’s disease (PD). One perplexing observation is that PD is both less common in women, but when it does occur, is often more aggressive. Several studies at MIND, under the direction of Dr. Anne Young, are exploring this discrepancy.

“We think that there are important clues about the origin and progression of PD,” stated Dr. Young. The observation of molecular differences in the female PD brain was first made by Dr. David Standaert’s laboratory at MIND and is now being followed up by Drs. Young and Ippolita Cantuti-Castelvetri. “Ultimately, we want to determine if PD therapies could be more effective with gender-specific tailoring,” she added.

MIND researcher Dr. Cantuti-Castelvetri is delving deeply into this question by examining the brain differences between men and women with Parkinson’s disease. Using laser capture microscopy and post-mortem brain tissue, Dr. Cantuti-Castelvetri can literally pluck out individual brain cells and examine how they malfunction. She measures which of a person’s 22,000 genes are turned on or off in diseased brain cells, illuminating the genetic processes that are underway.

Remarkably, females affected by PD have an entirely different genetic expression profile than male brains. New studies are now underway to better describe this observation and to tie it in with other studies by MIND researcher Dr. Michael Schwarzschild, who examines the relationship between estrogen and PD. Several fundamental pathways within dopamine nigral neurons and cerebral cortex neurons are differentially affected in males and females with PD. The consequences of the changes are currently being investigated, and may have implications for development and testing of therapeutics for PD.


By Janice Hayes-Cha
Former Executive Director, MIND
MIND Research Review, Copyright MGH MIND, 2009

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