Parkinson’s in a dish: Researchers reproduce brain oscillations
Feng and his colleagues generated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from the skin cells of patients with mutations in the parkin gene. Years earlier, Feng’s team had used the same technology to discover that these mutations cause Parkinson’s disease by disrupting the actions of dopamine, which is necessary for normal physical movement. When there isn’t enough dopamine, an imbalance in neurotransmission occurs, ultimately resulting in Parkinson’s disease.
“What we found in our new research is pretty dramatic,” he said. “When we recorded electrical activity in the neurons with parkin mutations, you could clearly see the oscillations.”
The mutations induce a change in how neurons communicate, Feng said.
“Normally, communication between these neurons is not repetitive,” he said, “but in this case, we suspect that the oscillation reduces the information content being transmitted. It’s almost like stuttering, as though now the neuron can’t understand the instructions for normal movement. All the neurons ‘hear’ is nonsense.”
To make sure that the oscillations were caused by parkin mutations, the researchers then used a virus to rescue the mutations. With normal parkin back in the neuron, the oscillations disappeared.