A decrease of the male hormone testosterone has been found to cause Parkinson's disease-like symptoms in a new study by neurological researchers at Rush University Medical Center.
The findings, which are based on studies of laboratory mice, suggest hormones may play a key role in the brain disorder and possibly other neurological diseases. Consequently, the new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry could point the way to new treatments for the condition.
"We have found that the sudden drop in the levels of testosterone following castration is sufficient to cause persistent Parkinson's like pathology and symptoms in male mice," said Kalipada Pahan, M.D., a professor of neurology at Rush who led the research. "We found that the supplementation of testosterone in the form of 5-alpha dihydrotestosterone (DHT) pellets reverses Parkinson's pathology in male mice."
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Dr. Pahan noted the findings add to a growing number of studies that have tied testosterone levels to many diseases and health conditions. Typically, testosterone levels peak in healthy men in their mid-30s, then drop about 1 percent each year as they grow older. But testosterone levels can a plummet as a result of stress or disease, which could make some men more vulnerable to Parkinson's disease.
"Therefore, preservation of testosterone in males may be an important step to become resistant to Parkinson's disease," said Dr. Pahan. He added that the new findings provide a deeper understanding of how the disease develops — moving medical science a step closer to developing effective drugs that protect the brain and stop the progression of Parkinson's disease.
"Further research must be conducted to see how we could potentially target testosterone levels in human males in order to find a viable treatment," said Dr. Pahan.
Parkinson's is a slowly progressive disease that causes changes in the brain that lead to a reduction in a vital chemical neurotransmitter, dopamine. That decrease can cause tremors, slowed movements, stiffness of limbs, and walking and balance problems. The cause of the disease is unknown and there is no cure.
Parkinson's disease affects about 1.2 million people in the United States and Canada. Although 15 percent of patients are diagnosed before age 50, it tends to strike older adults, affecting one of every 100 persons over the age of 60 and is slightly more common in men than women.
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