October 5, 2011

Parkinson’s deep brain target fired up

Neuronal activity in a deep brain region increases as Parkinson’s disease advances, a new study suggests.


Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder marked by progressive loss of motor control. Evidence from animal models suggests that increased neuronal activity in a region of the brain called the subthalamic nucleus may play a role in the pathophysiology of the disorder. For this reason, the subthalamic nucleus is a common target for deep brain stimulation (DBS) – an FDA-approved therapy for advanced Parkinson’s disease.

Peter Konrad, associate professor of neurological surgery, and colleagues are conducting a pilot clinical trial to test DBS in individuals with early-stage Parkinson’s disease. This trial provides the team with a unique opportunity to evaluate neuronal activity in the subthalamic nucleus in early-stage disease (prior to this trial, such recordings have only been possible in patients undergoing DBS for advanced disease).

They report in Movement Disorders that subthalamic nucleus neurons had a significantly lower firing rate – and the region had lower overall activity – in early versus advanced Parkinson’s disease. The findings suggest that neuronal firing in the subthalamic nucleus increases with disease progression.

This study was supported by Medtronic, Inc., the National Center for Research Resources, and the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorder Foundation.