Contact: Michael C. Purdy firstname.lastname@example.org 314-286-0122 Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis, Parkinson's disease is well-known for impairing movement and causing tremors, but many patients also develop other serious problems, including sleep disturbances and significant losses in cognitive function known as dementia.
Now researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have modeled Parkinson's-associated dementia for the first time. Scientists showed that a single night of sleep loss in genetically altered fruit flies caused long-lasting disruptions in the flies' cognitive abilities comparable to aspects of Parkinson's-associated dementia. They then blocked this effect by feeding the flies large doses of the spice curcumin.
"Clinical trials of curcumin to reduce risk of Parkinson's disease are a future possibility, but for now we are using the flies to learn how curcumin works," says author James Galvin, M.D., a Washington University associate professor of neurology who treats patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "This should help us find other compounds that can mimic curcumin's protective effects but are more specific."
Galvin and senior author Paul Shaw, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology, publish their results in the journal Sleep on Aug. 1.
Galvin is an expert in cognitive impairments in human Parkinson's disease; Shaw studies sleep and the brain in fruit flies. The researchers decided collaborate based in part on evidence that increased sleep loss in Parkinson's patients can precede or coincide with increased severity in other Parkinsonian symptoms.
More than 74 percent of Parkinson's patients have trouble sleeping, and up to 80 percent of patients 65 and older who have Parkinson's disease for seven years will develop dementia, according to Galvin.
Shaw's lab has linked sleep loss to changes in the dopaminergic system of the brain, the part of the brain that produces the neurotransmitter dopamine and is at the center of the damage caused by Parkinson's.