Parkinson’s disease (PD) is usually recognized through motor symptoms such as tremor or gait instability, but everyone living with PD knows there is much more that comes with a diagnosis.
“You can develop difficulties with vision; changes in various sweat glands, either dryness or excessive sweating; difficulties with the bladder; erectile dysfunction in men; blood pressure control; constipation and problems with the GI system,” says Charles Adler, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.
Those symptoms are associated with the autonomic nervous system, the group of nerves responsible for involuntary movements, like those that control heart beat and digestion. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is supporting research into improved therapies to treat symptoms such as orthostatic hypotension (a drop in blood pressure upon standing), constipation and swallowing difficulties.
In addition, the Foundation funds researchers, including Charles, who are exploring the potential of autonomic symptoms as indicators of early disease. Researchers believe that toxic forms of the protein alpha-synuclein may be behind these dysfunctions and may serve as a biomarker for early diagnostic tests.
“The plan would be to find a number of symptoms that would suggest risk for Parkinson’s disease,” Charles tells MJFF Contributing Editor Dave Iverson in our latest podcast. “If we found individuals who were at high risk for developing Parkinson’s and then had a diagnostic test like a tissue biopsy, we might be able to make a diagnosis even before motor symptoms develop.”
Watch our Webinar on autonomic dysfunction in Parkinson's.
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Read Charles' paper in Neurology on his research of alpha-synuclein in the salivary gland, published this week.