Contributor: James Beck, Ph.D.
Today’s launch of npj Parkinson’s Disease has auspicious timing. As we publish the inaugural papers of this new journal – all seeking answers that can help us understand this chronic and neurodegenerative disease – we do it during the time of year also recognized as Parkinson’s Awareness Month in the US.
April, as the birthday month for the late James Parkinson, is a time when we remember that there are still seven to 10 million people worldwide living with the disease who are counting on science to help them lead better lives. It is a time when we remember the urgency of addressing the visible and invisible symptoms of the disease.
For you see, there is more to Parkinson’s disease than simply the visible signs of a shaking palsy. Parkinson’s disease is an ‘invisible’ disease too. Many of the symptoms people with Parkinson’s experience lie just under the surface as invisible, non-motor symptoms such as fatigue, autonomic dysfunction, balance problems and others. And as of now, these go unsolved.
At a time when there is a proliferation of biomedical journals, a new journal may not seem particularly noteworthy. However, npj Parkinson’s Disease is indeed different. Parkinson’s Awareness Month makes it clear that much work needs to be done to help those who live with Parkinson’s disease, and through npj Parkinson’s disease, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and Nature Publishing Group are intent on publishing excellent science to get that work done.
The inaugural issue of the journal does exactly that, with articles addressing some of the unresolved issues in Parkinson’s disease, including how the disease might start and what might be the biological basis for one of its most troubling symptoms – hallucinations.
- On the first point, despite the more than 50 years since the loss of dopamine was recognized as the basis for the profound changes in movement that people with Parkinson’s experience, scientists are still at a loss to explain what triggers the disease in more than a limited number of cases. Malú Tansey, Ph.D., and her colleagues at Emory University are working to understand more subtle triggers of Parkinson’s. Tansey et al. describe how a single nucleotide polymorphism in the MHC-II locus may link environmental factors to regulation of antigen presentation. Their work continues the trend of showing how genes and environment remain inexorably linked in disease risk.
- Another issue unseen by observers but of which many people with PD are acutely aware, is hallucinations. Psychosis, unfortunately, is not an uncommon symptom in PD, but it can be one of the most debilitating and troubling ones, often leading to early placement in a nursing home. Therefore, the fMRI study by Simon Lewis, M.D., and colleagues using surrogates of visual hallucinations is particularly relevant. Here, they revealed significant abnormal connectivity in attentional networks during tasks designed to mimic hallucinations. Identifying fundamental issues underlying PD psychosis such as this, is an important step to treating and preventing this disabling symptom.
While these represent just a few of the unsolved mysteries in Parkinson’s disease, there are many more. Trying to determine which mystery to tackle next is no mean feat. On our end, PDF is working to understand unmet needs in Parkinson’s disease, and which are most pressing, by asking people who live with the disease about their priorities through our “people’s choice” research award. And with the open access nature of npj Parkinson’s Disease, we can ensure that those answers can disseminated for all to read.
As I have said before, at PDF, we believe that empowering patients and scientists with access to information will help us come closer to ending Parkinson’s disease. We hope you’ll check out this first issue of npj Parkinson’s Disease, to see what we’re learning. There are millions of people worldwide counting on us to join with them in finding the answers.
James Beck, Ph.D., is Vice President, Scientific Affairs at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. He oversees the strategy of PDF’s research programs as part of the organization’s mission to end Parkinson’s disease.