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Parkinson’s disease

The third condition we are looking at in Week 1 is Parkinson's disease. Read the text below, then take the quiz so as to check your understanding.
© University of East Anglia

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain condition most easily recognised by associated movement problems- slow movement, rigidity (muscle stiffness), and a tremor, particularly obvious in the hands.

In advanced Parkinson’s disease, walking is difficult to initiate, a head- forward, stooping posture is adopted, the feet can’t be lifted, and the person shuffles along rather than walks. Over time it becomes impossible to walk at all. But depression, anxiety, sleeping and memory problems are among many other associated effects.

Neurones (or nerve cells) pass on signals within the brain and out to muscles in the body by ‘firing’ chemicals called neurotransmitters from tiny ‘pockets’ called vesicles, to receptors on a neighbouring neurone or at a junction with a muscle. One important neurotransmitter for movement is called dopamine. In Parkinson’s disease (PD), cells along the motor pathway in a brain area called the substantia nigra are depleted. In healthy humans, dopamine makes this brain area look black (substantia nigra means black substance) but in people with PD the area is white. And so in PD, signal transmission from the brain to muscles to enable smooth coordinated movement is impaired.

Note that dopamine is also important in areas to do with thinking and other brain functions. In conditions where there seems to be excess dopamine such as schizophrenia, thoughts can be excessively rapid and fast-changing, and it becomes difficult to distinguish thoughts and mental images from reality.

You’re most unlikely to ever see someone with PD who also has schizophrenia, but if treatments for PD, aimed at boosting dopamine, are given in too high a dose, you may see temporary symptoms that resemble those linked to schizophrenia.

© University of East Anglia
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