Nav: Home

Sleep problems in Parkinson's disease: Can we fix them?

June 07, 2018

A team of researchers at VIB and KU Leuven has uncovered why people with a hereditary form of Parkinson's disease suffer from sleep disturbances. The molecular mechanisms uncovered in fruit flies and human stem cells also point to candidate targets for the development of new treatments.

Sleep and Parkinson's


Parkinson's disease affects 5 million people across the globe. Its typical symptoms are related to movement difficulty: tremor, rigidity, loss of balance... But patients are also faced with several non-motoric symptoms, including disturbed sleep. Nearly all patients experience some form of sleep pattern disturbance, ranging from nocturnal movements or insomnia to daytime sleepiness.

Problems with sleeping patterns are one of the earliest symptoms of the disease, sometimes occurring as much as 10 years prior to the onset of motor symptoms and often before the actual diagnosis is made. Needless to say this has a huge impact on people with Parkinson's and their loved ones.

Lipid defects in the brain


Using induced human pluripotent stem cells derived from people with a hereditary form of Parkinson's disease, as well as genetically modified fruit flies with Parkinson's symptoms, a team of scientists lead by Patrik Verstreken (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research) uncovered problems with the so-called neuropeptidergic neurons, a specific type of neurons that regulate sleeping patterns.

Abnormal lipid trafficking in these neurons disrupts the production and release of neuropeptides, which in turn affects the regulation of sleep and circadian rhythms. The result is a disturbed sleep-wake cycle in the genetically modified flies.

Restoring the lipid balance?


"We uncovered which type of lipid is missing, so we could try to rescue the sleep pattern defects by restoring the lipid balance," explains Jorge Valadas, who is part of the Verstreken team. "When we model Parkinson's disease in fruit flies, we find that they have fragmented sleep patterns and difficulties in knowing when to go to sleep or when to wake up. But when we feed them phosphatidylserine--the lipid that is depleted in the neuropeptidergic neurons--we see an improvement in a matter of days."

The findings are promising, but the scientists underscore that a lot of work needs to be done before the results can be translated to patients.

Patrik Verstreken: "Translating the phosphatidylserine experiments is not straightforward, as similar sleep manifestations are absent in mouse models of Parkinson's disease. The good news is that phosphatidylserine is already marketed as a food supplement, so if we can prove efficacy in humans, this would be very good news. There are still a lot of questions though. For example, we don't know if phosphatidylserine could be delivered to the brain in humans, or at which dose."

Paradigm shift


Non-motoric symptoms often receive less attention, but nonetheless have a major impact on patients' lives. Understanding and potentially intervening in what causes sleep problems in Parkinson's disease is thus an important step forward, but according to Verstreken the findings are also a real conceptual game changer: "The main culprits of the motor symptoms are dopaminergic neurons, but the circadian rhythm and sleep pattern problems are specific to defects in neuropeptidergic neurons. Unlike for dopaminergic neurons, the neuropeptidergic problems are caused by neuronal dysfunction, not degeneration, which implies that they can be corrected. This could be a real paradigm shift in the Parkinson's disease field."
-end-
Publication

ER lipid defects in neuropeptidergic neurons impair sleep patterns in Parkinson's disease, Valadas et al., Neuron 2018

Questions from patients

A breakthrough in research is not the same as a breakthrough in medicine. The realizations of VIB researchers can form the basis of new therapies, but the development path still takes years. This can raise a lot of questions. That is why we ask you to please refer questions in your report or article to the email address that VIB makes available for this purpose: patienteninfo@vib.be. Everyone can submit questions concerning this and other medically-oriented research directly to VIB via this address.

VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

Related Neurons Articles:

New tool to identify and control neurons
One of the big challenges in the Neuroscience field is to understand how connections and communications trigger our behavior.
Neurons that regenerate, neurons that die
In a new study published in Neuron, investigators report on a transcription factor that they have found that can help certain neurons regenerate, while simultaneously killing others.
How neurons use crowdsourcing to make decisions
When many individual neurons collect data, how do they reach a unanimous decision?
Neurons can learn temporal patterns
Individual neurons can learn not only single responses to a particular signal, but also a series of reactions at precisely timed intervals.
A turbo engine for tracing neurons
Putting a turbo engine into an old car gives it an entirely new life -- suddenly it can go further, faster.
More Neurons News and Neurons Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...