Neuroscientist and geneticist David Weinshenker makes a case that the locus coeruleus (LC), a small region of the brainstem and part of the pons, is among the earliest regions to show signs of degeneration in both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. You can check it out in Trends in Neurosciences.
The LC is the main source of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in the brain, and gets its name (Latin for “blue spot”) from the pigment neuromelanin, which is formed as a byproduct of the synthesis of norepinephrine and its related neurotransmitter dopamine. The LC has connections all over the brain, and is thought to be involved in arousal and attention, stress responses, learning and memory, and the sleep-wake cycle.
Cells in the locus coeruleus are lost in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. From Kelly et al Acta Neuropath. Comm. (2017) via Creative Commons
The protein tau is one of the toxic proteins tied to Alzheimer’s, and it forms intracellular tangles. Pathologists have observed that precursors to tau tangles can be found in the LC in apparently healthy people before anywhere else in the brain, sometimes during the first few decades of life, Weinshenker writes. A similar bad actor in Parkinson’s, alpha-synuclein, can also be detected in the LC before other parts of the brain that are well known for damage in Parkinson’s, such as the dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra.
“The LC is the earliest site to show tau pathology in AD and one of the earliest (but not the earliest) site to show alpha-synuclein pathology in PD,” Weinshenker tells Lab Land. “The degeneration of the cells in both these diseases is more gradual. It probably starts in the terminals/fibers and eventually the cell bodies die.” Read more
The drug target VMAT2 has appeared in biomedical news lately because of a pair of FDA approvals. One medicine treats the iatrogenic movement disorder tardive dyskinesia, the first approved to do so, and the other is for symptoms of Huntington’s disease.
Gary Miller, PhD
When Emory folks see VMAT2, they should think of two things: the neurotransmitter dopamine, and Parkinson’s research conducted by Gary Miller and his colleagues. They have made a case that activators of VMAT2 would be beneficial in Parkinson’s, but the drugs in the news were inhibitors, and presumably would make Parkinson’s worse.
VMAT2 (vesicular monoamine transporter 2) is responsible for transporting dopamine into synaptic vesicles, tiny packages for delivery. As Miller’s lab has shown, mice deficient in VMAT2 can be a model for the non-motor and motor aspects of Parkinson’s. In these mice, not only are certain nervous system functions impaired, but the dopamine packaging problem inflicts damage on the neurons.
Miller’s more recent work on a related molecule called SV2C is puzzling, but intriguing. The gene encoding SV2C had attracted attention because of its connection to the striking ability of cigarette smoking to reduce Parkinson’s risk, possibly mediated by nicotine’s effect on dopamine in the brain.
I say puzzling because SV2C’s role in brain cells can’t be described as easily as VMAT2’s. Read more
Gary Miller’s lab at Emory was the launching pad for this studyÂ from Rutgers, published last week in the FASEB Journal, showing a potentialÂ connection between a common type of insecticideÂ used at home and in agriculture, pyrethroids, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).Â Read more
It is a privilege to work at Emory and learn about and report on so much quality biomedical research. I started to make a top 10 for 2014 and had too many favorites. After divertingÂ some of these topics into the 2015 crystal ball
,Â I corralledÂ them into themes.
1. Cardiac cell therapy
2. Mobilizing the body’s own regenerative potential
4. Parkinson’s disease therapeutic strategies
(Gary Miller, better packaging for dopamine could avoidÂ stress to neurons).
5. Personal genomics/exome sequencing
, likeÂ Emory’s Robert Gross
and Costas Hadjpanayis, do amazing things
7. Fun vsÂ no fun
Our Web expert
tells me this was Lab Land’s most widely read post last year.
9. Fine-tuning approaches to cancer
In a recent PNAS paper, Gary Miller and colleagues at Rollins School of Public Health outline a potential therapeutic approach to Parkinsonâ€™s disease that Iâ€™m going to call the Container Store approach.
If you have a mess in your kitchen or basement workshop, you might need more or better containers to hold your tools. Analogously, problems in Parkinsonâ€™s disease can be traced back to a lack of effective containers for the brain communication chemical dopamine.
Dopamine-restoring drugs already used to treat Parkinsonâ€™s disease may also be beneficial for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness in adults, researchers have discovered. The results were published recently in Journal of Neuroscience.
Diabetic retinopathy affects more than a quarter of adults with diabetes and threatens the vision of more than 600,000 people in the United States. Doctors had previously thought most of the impairment of vision in diabetic retinopathy came from damage to the blood vessels induced by high blood sugar, but had known that dopamine, a vital neurotransmitter in the brain, was also important in the retina.
â€œThere was some evidence already that dopamine levels were reduced in diabetic retinopathy, but whatâ€™s new here is: we can restore dopamine levels and improve visual Ray Ban outlet function in an animal model of diabetes,â€ says Machelle Pardue, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology at Emory University School of Medicine and research career scientist at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Read more