Restless sleep may be an early sign of Parkinson's disease

December 05, 2017

Researchers from Aarhus University have discovered that patients with the RBD sleep behaviour disorder lack dopamine and have a form of inflammation of the brain. This means that they are at risk of developing Parkinson's disease or dementia when they grow older.

Do you sleep restlessly and hit out and kick in your sleep? This could be a sign of a disorder associated with diseases of the brain. Researchers from Aarhus University have studied the condition of the dopamine producing nerve cells in the brain and cells that participate in the brain's immune system in people suffering from the sleep disorder Rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder, RBD.

The study shows that patients suffering from RBD have a risk of developing Parkinson's disease or dementia in the future, because they already suffer from a lack of dopamine in the brain. Parkinson's disease occurs precisely because the group of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine stop working.

The RBD sleep disorder is characterised by disturbances in the part of sleep where dreams take place. Healthy people are relaxed and lie still during dream sleep, while people suffering from RBD live out their dreams so that while sleeping they can hit out, kick and shout.

"These patients have an inflammation of the brain in the area where the dopamine-producing nerve cells are found," says one of the researchers behind the study, Morten Gersel Stokholm from Aarhus University and the PET Centre at Aarhus University Hospital.

The findings have just been published in the neurological journal The Lancet Neurology.

This is completely new knowledge, as researchers have not previously demonstrated that there is a form of inflammation of the brain in patients who are at risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

"With this study, we have gained new knowledge about the disease processes in the brain in the early initial stages of the disease development. The idea is for this knowledge to be used to determine which patients with the sleep disorder will later develop Parkinson's disease. At the same time, this is also knowledge that can help to develop drugs which can stop or slow the development of the diseases," explains Morten Gersel Stokholm about the sleep disorder which most often affects persons aged 50-70, and more frequently men than women.

Parkinson's disease

There are 7,300 Parkinson's disease patients in Denmark. Symptoms are slow movements, often with shaking, together with muscular rigidity. Parkinson's disease is a chronic condition that continues to worsen over time. The disease is somewhat more common in men than in women. Parkinson's disease occurs because the brain lacks dopamine. It is primarily adults who are affected, and the first signs most often appear between the ages of 50-70.

Background for the results:

The study is a case-control study.

The people behind the project are Medical Doctor and PhD student Morten Gersel Stokholm and Associate Professor, MD, Nicola Pavese in collaboration with medical doctors from the Department of Neurology and the Sleep Clinic, Aarhus University Hospital and medical doctors from the University Hospital Clinic de Barcelona.
-end-
The project is financed by a grant from the Independent Research Fund Denmark.

Assessment of neuroinflammation in patients with idiopathic rapid-eye-movement sleep behaviour disorder: a case-control study

Contact

MD, PhD student Morten Gersel Stokholm
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine and
Aarhus University Hospital, The PET Centre
Tel.: 45-2851 1148
mortenstokholm@clin.au.dk

Aarhus University

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