In preliminary results, researchers have shown that a drug which mimics the effects of the nerve-signaling chemical dopamine causes new neurons to develop in the part of the brain where cells are lost in Parkinson's disease (PD). The drug also led to long-lasting recovery of function in an animal model of PD. The findings may lead to new ways of treating PD and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Animals treated for 8 weeks also developed almost 75 percent of the normal number of neuronal connections with other parts of the brain and showed an approximately 80 percent improvement in their movements and a significantly improved ability to retrieve food pellets. These effects lasted for at least 4 months after the treatment ended.
They are also carrying out experiments to learn if using drugs that act on other kinds of receptors might stimulate neurogenesis in Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
“These findings are very exciting for several reasons. Being able to stimulate endogenous stem cells in patients would alleviate the need for transplantation of engineered cells, and as a drug therapy, it would be also easy to administer to patients. Moreover, given that similar drugs exist, medicinal chemistry to maximize this effect could be achieved quickly,” says Diane Murphy, Ph.D., the NINDS program director for the grant that funded this research.