Study Rationale: People living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) are very sensitive to stress, which worsens motor symptoms (such as tremor) and leads to anxiety and depression. Studies in animals suggest that stress may also contribute to more rapid disease progression by accelerating the loss of dopamine-producing neurons. However, evidence for stress-induced decline in neurodegeneration in people with PD is lacking. In this study, we will explore whether and how stress influences progression of PD — an issue that, in today’s society, requires urgent attention.
Hypothesis: We aim to test the hypothesis that psychological distress accelerates dopamine cell loss in PD, and that this effect is related to increased inflammation.
Study Design: We will use an existing set of longitudinal data in which we measured psychological distress evoked by the covid-19 pandemic in 304 people with PD. All individuals underwent clinical testing, blood sampling and neuroimaging (with multi-modal MRI) before and during the covid-19 pandemic. Examination of this dataset will allow us to determine whether individuals who were more sensitive to stress showed a faster disease progression than those who were more resilient — and to begin to assess the mechanism that underlies this effect.
Impact on Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson’s disease: This project will demonstrate whether external stressors accelerate disease progression in PD. If so, this finding will open the door to new treatments that may slow the disease by reducing stress, inflammation or both.
Next Steps for Development: If we determine that stress accelerates PD, we will design a study aimed at testing whether reducing stress via mindfulness-based practices can curtail disease progression.