Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a slowly progressing disorder of the parts of the brainstem responsible for making and storing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. A neurotransmitter is a chemical that sends a signal from one neuron to another. When these parts of the brain are damaged, not enough dopamine is produced, resulting in the rhythmic tremor and slowed movement common of individuals with PD.
Symptoms develop over a lifetime, but diagnosis is generally made in a person’s 60’s. Earlier onset forms are recognized but are less common. There is a higher incidence of PD among men than women, although the cause is unclear.
Core characteristics of the disorder are:
Many non-motor symptoms can be seen in PD as well. These include autonomic instability (e.g. labile blood pressure), constipation, anosmia (loss of smell) and cognitive impairment.
Treatment is focused on pharmacological repletion of dopamine to improve motor function and supportive care to prevent falls; however, there are currently no available treatments that prevent the neurodegenerative process (disease-modifying therapies).
Current research at the PENN FTD C and our colleagues at the Penn Udall Center for Excellence in PD Research are involve identifying PD patients at risk of developing cognitive impairment and developing markers of disease progression to help develop and test disease-modifying therapies.