Diagnosing Parkinson's disease is difficult, especially in the early stage of the disease. Neurologists of the University Hospital of Würzburg have now shown a way that could be beneficial to both early diagnosis and research. They found the key in the patients' skin.
A definite diagnosis is only possible post-mortem. Only then can pathologists examine the brain for typical depositions of the protein alpha-synuclein in the nerve cells of specific brain regions and thus reliably diagnose Parkinson's disease (PD).
Before that, physicians have to rely on a number of typical symptoms which are indicative of Parkinson's disease. The diagnosis is obvious in patients who move slowly, have a limited range of motion, stiff muscles and tremors at rest or have difficulty keeping their balance. But these symptoms only occur in the advanced stage of the disease; until then, the diagnosis remains extremely uncertain.
Depositions in cutaneous nerve fibres
This could change in the foreseeable future: Neurologists from Würzburg found out that in about half of the PD patients the alpha-synuclein depositions are also detectable in the small nerve fibres of the skin. Since the skin is much easier to access than the brain, Professor Claudia Sommer and her team are hopeful to reliably diagnose the disease pre-mortem in the future by means of a simple skin biopsy. And what is more, the scientists believe that this will allow them to investigate the disease mechanism in the skin, which is still largely unknown. The results of the study have just been published in the magazine Acta Neuropathologica.
31 PD patients from the neurological department of the University Hospital of Würzburg and from the Paracelsus Elena Hospital in Kassel and 35 healthy controls participated in the study. Small skin biopsies were taken from all participants at the lower and upper leg, index finger and back. Additionally, the scientists conducted a number of further examinations to exclude other causes of nerve damage.
"We identified phosphorylated alpha-synuclein in the histological samples of 16 PD patients but in none of the controls," first-time author Kathrin Doppler sums up the study results. In other words: Whereas about every second PD patient exhibited the typical depositions, they did not occur in any of the healthy controls.
The scientists made another finding that is interesting for an early diagnosis: "Alpha-synuclein occurred equally in patients in early and late stages of the disease," Kathrin Doppler explains. She pointed out that this was unrelated to the course of the disease.
Identical changes in the skin and in the brain
The scientists most frequently encountered alpha-synuclein in skin biopsies from the back of patients. They also registered a decreased number of nerve fibres in patients with Parkinson's disease compared to the healthy controls. They reported that the types of nerve fibres affected were similar to those in the brain of PD patients. The scientists take this as a promising sign that "the changes in the skin of PD patients are reflective of features of brain pathology, which could render it a useful tool for pathogenetic studies".
In a follow-up study, the Würzburg scientists are characterising the cutaneous alpha-synuclein depositions in greater detail to learn more about their effects on the function and survival of nerve fibres. In doing so, they hope to shed more light on the disease mechanism which is still largely unknown.
The work was funded by the First-time Applicant Program of the Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research (IZKF) of the University Hospital of Würzburg.
"Cutaneous neuropathy in Parkinson’s disease: a window into brain pathology" Kathrin Doppler, Sönke Ebert, Nurcan Üçeyler, Claudia Trenkwalder, Jens Ebentheuer, Jens Volkmann, Claudia Sommer; published online on 04 Mai 2014, doi: 10.1007/s00401-014-1284-0
Dr. Kathrin Doppler, T: +49-931-201-23787, Doppler_k@ukw.de
Prof. Dr. Claudia Sommer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gunnar Bartsch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Quasi-sexual gene transfer drives genetic diversity of hot spring bacteria
29.05.2015 | Carnegie Institution
Scientists use unmanned aerial vehicle to study gray whales from above
29.05.2015 | NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service
Many joining and cutting processes are possible only with lasers. New technologies make it possible to manufacture metal components with hollow structures that are significantly lighter and yet just as stable as solid components. In addition, lasers can be used to combine various lightweight construction materials and steels with each other. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen is presenting a range of such solutions at the LASER World of Photonics trade fair from June 22 to 25, 2015 in Munich, Germany, (Hall A3, Stand 121).
Lightweight construction materials are popular: aluminum is used in the bodywork of cars, for example, and aircraft fuselages already consist in large part of...
Using ultrashort laser pulses, scientists in Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have demonstrated the emission of extreme ultraviolet radiation from thin dielectric films and have investigated the underlying mechanisms.
In 1961, only shortly after the invention of the first laser, scientists exposed silicon dioxide crystals (also known as quartz) to an intense ruby laser to...
The only professorship in Germany to date, one master's programme, one laboratory with worldwide unique equipment and the corresponding research results: The University of Würzburg is leading in the field of biofabrication.
Paul Dalton is presently the only professor of biofabrication in Germany. About a year ago, the Australian researcher relocated to the Würzburg department for...
Physicists have developed an innovative method that could enable the efficient use of nanocomponents in electronic circuits. To achieve this, they have developed a layout in which a nanocomponent is connected to two electrical conductors, which uncouple the electrical signal in a highly efficient manner. The scientists at the Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel have published their results in the scientific journal “Nature Communications” together with their colleagues from ETH Zurich.
Electronic components are becoming smaller and smaller. Components measuring just a few nanometers – the size of around ten atoms – are already being produced...
Development and implementation of an advanced automobile parking navigation platform for parking services
To fulfill the requirements of the industry, PolyU researchers developed the Advanced Automobile Parking Navigation Platform, which includes smart devices,...
20.05.2015 | Event News
18.05.2015 | Event News
12.05.2015 | Event News
29.05.2015 | Life Sciences
29.05.2015 | Earth Sciences
29.05.2015 | Physics and Astronomy