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Sudden dip in male sex hormone linked to Parkinson’s disease

By Kathleen Blanchard     Jul 27, 2013 in Health
Understanding the underpinnings of Parkinson’s disease, estimated to affect 6.3 million people worldwide, is a focus of researchers. A new study links sudden dips in the male sex hormone testosterone to the neurological disease.
Understanding the underpinnings of Parkinson’s disease, estimated to affect 6.3 million people worldwide, is a focus of researchers. A new study links sudden dips in the male sex hormone testosterone to the neurological disease.
The finding that is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry has implications for new approaches to treat the disorder that can occur as young, as age-50 in fifteen percent of cases.
Michael J. Fox, Canadian American actor, was diagnosed with the disease at age-30, leading him to creation of the Michael J. Fox Foundation that seeks to find a cure for Parkinson's.
Other celebrities stricken with the disease include Muhammed Ali, the first woman in the U.S. to serve as Attorney General, Janet Reno, British Actor Bob Hoskins, NASA astronaut Michael Richard who was diagnosed at age-42 and founding member of the band "Earth, Wind & Fire", Maurice White, diagnosed at age-50.
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center, Chicago have found replenishing the male sex hormone reversed Parkinson’s disease symptoms in mice that were castrated; causing a rapid decline in testosterone.
The study authors note one of the hurdles to finding treatment for Parkinson’s disease is lack of reliable animal models for the disease.
Dr. Kalipada Pahan who led the study explained in a press release: “While scientists use different toxins and a number of complex genetic approaches to model Parkinson’s disease in mice, we have found that the sudden drop in the levels of testosterone following castration is sufficient to cause persistent Parkinson’s like pathology and symptoms in male mice.”
Pahan also notes testosterone is closely tied to many diseases in men. Sudden drops in the sex hormone can happen from stress, making men more vulnerable to Parkinson’s disease.
Testosterone also declines with aging at a rate of about 1 percent a year beginning in a man’s mid-30s.
Given the above, Pahan speculates it might be important to preserve male testosterone levels to boost resistance to Parkinson’s disease.
Pahan says nitric oxide that is important for brain and body health might be a target for stopping the progression of the neurological disease.
He says a process called inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) causes neurons in the brain to die when the compound is produced in excess.
Pahan said the study became “more fascinating than we thought” when it was discovered that iNOS and nitric oxide levels increase dramatically in response to castration.
The finding showed symptoms of Parkinson’s disease occurred in response to loss of testosterone by way of nitric oxide production.
The disease that causes tremors, difficulty walking and speaking, stiffness and gradual decline in mobility and ability to function progresses slowly.
No one knows what causes the disease, but studies have suggested susceptibility from exposure environmental toxins and heredity.
“Further research must be conducted to see how we could potentially target testosterone levels in human males in order to find a viable treatment,” said Pahan.
Parkinson's disease that is not well understood robs those suffering from the disease of quality of life. The risk of falls, depression and other co-morbidities decreases lifespan and poses a significant burden of caregivers.
The hope is that understanding more about how declining testosterone leads to Parkinson’s disease could mean the disorder could be halted by either replenishing the male sex hormone or blocking the effect lower testosterone has on nitric oxide production in the brain.
More about Testosterone, Parkinson's Disease, Rush University, Study
 
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