One percent of the world’s population over 60 has Parkinson’s disease, an incurable neurodegenerative disorder whose main risk factor is age. It develops when, over time, dopamine-producing neurons located in the region of the brain known as the substantia nigra begin to accumulate a dark pigment in their interior, similar to melanin in the skin, which continues until these neurons degenerate and die.
To study whether the progressive build-up of this pigment affects the functioning and survival of the neuron we developed an animal model able to produce neuromelanin similar to that which accumulates in aged human brains. We observed in these animals that when this accumulation which occurs with age exceeded a certain threshold, the neurons began to degenerate and the animal developed characteristics typical of Parkinson’s disease. We are now trying to reduce the levels of piment build-up to prevent the neuronal degeneration and thus be able to treat, or even cure, the disease thorough different strategies: pharmacological tools, gene therapy or the application of transcranial ultrasound.