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Seattle research group turns up the focus on cognition in Parkinson’s

09/06/2010

A research center at the University of Washington is investigating the causes of Parkinson’s disease and seeking new ways to diagnose and treat this and other neurodegenerative disorders such as LBD. Investigators at the Pacific Northwest Udall Center, one of fourteen Morris K. Udall Centers of Excellence for Parkinson’s disease Research, are particularly interested in the cognitive effects of Parkinson’s disease. They believe that the different cognitive effects seen in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s hold important clues regarding the underlying causes of these two diseases.

Dr. Thomas Montine, the director of the center, describes the family experience of dementia in Parkinson’s in a recent Wall Street Journal article. “With Alzheimer’s disease, the patient often stops recognizing family. With Parkinson’s, it’s more like the family doesn’t recognize [the patient] anymore.”

The Wall Street Journal article describes several studies being conducted at the center, which brings together researchers from the University of Washington, the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Oregon Health & Science University, and the Portland VA Medical Center. In one study, center researchers examined the spinal fluid of people with Parkinson’s disease (with and without cognitive symptoms), people with Alzheimer’s disease, and health volunteers to look for markers of the amyloid and tau proteins found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. While some participants with cognitive symptoms of Parkinson’s disease had these proteins, many did not. This implies that the mechanisms causing Alzheimer’s disease are not the same as those causing the cognitive effects of Parkinson’s disease. However, center researchers concluded that there is enough of an overlap between the two conditions that medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease may also be useful for Parkinson’s.

To read more about this study and other research conducted by the center, read the full story in the Wall Street Journal.