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, email@example.com
Gunnar Bartsch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Show me your leaves - Health check for urban trees
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.
Liver Cancer: Lipid Synthesis Promotes Tumor Formation
12.12.2017 | Universität Basel
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
12.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
12.12.2017 | Earth Sciences
12.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering