Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 50,000 people in the United States receive a diagnosis of Parkinson’s every year.
Today, approximately 500,000 people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease.
One of the primary risk factors is advanced age, so as the population grows ever older, the number of Parkinson’s cases is likely to rise.
Understanding how and why the condition develops is paramount because there is currently no cure.
The primary driver of Parkinson’s is a mutated, shorter-than-normal version of a protein called alpha-synuclein.
This protein congregates inside the dopamine-producing neurons that are responsible for coordinating movements and forms structures called Lewy bodies and neurites.
Over time, the build-up of alpha-synuclein prevents brain cells from functioning and, eventually, they die. The resultant loss of neurons causes the movement problems that are characteristic of Parkinson’s, such as tremor and rigidity.
Although scientists have been studying Parkinson’s for decades, there are still many gaps in their knowledge.
One of these unanswered questions is why Parkinson’s occurs earlier in men and is more common in postmenopausal women.
Recently, a group of researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, decided to take a close look at the role of estrogen. They published their findings in the journal JNeurosci.
Earlier studies identified a relationship between estrogen and Parkinson’s disease.
For instance, the authors of a 2004 study investigating Parkinson’s risk and its relationship with “reproductive characteristics” concluded that there was “[a]n association between factors reducing estrogen stimulation during life and [Parkinson’s disease].”
Writer: Sakshi Gupta