Scientists from the Faculty of Life Sciences, led by Dr Emmanuel Pinteaux, have made important strides forward in the study of Parkinson’s disease. Due to their research, we may now have an answer to the question of why some outwardly healthy patients develop the debilitating illness.

While severe strokes have long been linked to Parkinson’s, researchers at the Faculty have now discovered that small strokes, otherwise known as silent strokes, may also play a part. Unlike a severe stroke, a silent stroke can show no outward symptoms. A patient may not even know they have been afflicted. However, the lasting effects of a silent stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked for only a short time, can still be extremely damaging.

Dr Pinteaux’s work has concentrated on what happens in areas of the brain away from where a silent stroke has occurred, and whether the damage found there could be a cause of Parkinson’s. The research demonstrated how one of the lasting effects of a silent stroke can be the death of dopaminergic neurons in a part of the brain which is important for movement coordination. Talking about the findings, Dr Pinteaux said:

“It is well known that inflammation following a stroke can be very damaging to the brain. But what we didn’t fully appreciate was the impact on areas of the brain away from the location of the stroke. Our work identifying that a silent stroke can lead to Parkinson’s disease shows it is more important than ever to ensure stroke patients have swift access to anti-inflammatory medication. These drugs could potentially either delay or stop the on-set of Parkinson’s disease.”

This important study has already led to discoveries that could improve the treatment and prevention of Parkinson’s. Following the publication of the findings, Dr Pinteaux now hopes to set up a clinical investigation of people who have suffered from a silent stroke in the hope that further crucial advances can be made.

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