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New discovery about Parkinson's at the Montreal Neurological Institute

As a world-class medical centre, the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (MNI) at McGill University is able to treat patients with Parkinson’s and make important discoveries about the disease all under the same roof.

Dr. Edward Fon, a neurologist and researcher at the MNI, studies Parkinson's disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle stiffness and tremor and prevents people from controlling their movements in a normal manner. PD is estimated to affect about 100,000 Canadians.

By studying defects in the genes of patients with inherited forms of PD, Dr. Fon and his team have learned about the cellular mechanisms that are involved in the death of dopamine nerve cells, which is the main characteristic of the disease. In a recent study that was funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and published in the prestigious journal Nature Cell Biology, Dr. Fon and his colleagues made a new discovery about parkin, a gene that is responsible for a common inherited form of PD. “We have found that parkin plays a novel role in a signaling pathway that controls nerve cell survival,” explains Dr. Fon. “This new function is completely different from the role parkin was traditionally thought to play. Moreover, this pathway—called the Akt signaling pathway—has recently been linked to other neurodegenerative diseases in addition to PD. This new-found interaction between Akt and parkin suggests that PD and other neurodegenerative disorders may share certain key mechanisms of cell death, which now gives us a whole new set of potential treatment targets.”

Along with his research, Dr. Fon is also a clinician at the Movement Disorder Clinic of the MNI, which provides the best in health care and services to people with PD across the country. In fact, it was recently awarded a Clinical Assistance Grant from Parkinson Society Canada for its excellence in clinical service and received an outstanding score that put it amongst the top tier of eligible candidates nationwide. The clinic takes a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, and clinic director Dr. Anne-Louise Lafontaine emphasizes that “newly diagnosed patients have the opportunity of being evaluated by a neurologist, a clinical nurse specialist and other health care professionals on the same clinic day. Follow-up appointments with the team members are arranged as needed to follow progress and offer advice on an ongoing basis.” The clinic therefore strives to offer continuity of care and facilitates this through “one stop shopping.”

Facts about Parkinson’s

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive disorder of the central nervous system that belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders.

Symptoms of Parkinson's, which often appear gradually yet with increasing severity, may include tremors or trembling; difficulty maintaining balance and gait; rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; and general slowness of movement (also called bradykinesia).

It is currently impossible to predict who will get Parkinson's disease or to prevent it from occurring. In general, both men and women are affected equally and symptoms first appear, on average, when a patient is older than 50.

(Source: Michael J. Fox Foundation)

For more information about Parkinson’s, visit the web site of Parkinson Society Canada at or the Michael J. Fox Foundation at

The Montreal Neurological Institute ( is a McGill University ( research and teaching institute, dedicated to the study of the nervous system and neurological diseases. Founded in 1934 by the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield, the MNI is one of the world’s largest institutes of its kind. MNI researchers are world leaders in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience and the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders. The MNI, with its clinical partner, the Montreal Neurological Hospital (MNH), part of the McGill University Health Centre (, continues to integrate research, patient care and training, and is recognized as one of the premier neuroscience centres in the world. Already well known for its McConnell Brain Imaging Centre, the MNI will expand its brain imaging research in the next several years through a $28 million award from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, made in partnership with the government of Quebec. There will also be further development of MNI initiatives in multiple sclerosis, optical imaging and nano-neuroscience.

Amy Butcher | EurekAlert!
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