A drug currently prescribed for treating liver disease could be an effective treatment that could slow down the progression of Parkinson's disease.

Figures from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), estimate that half a million people in the U.S suffer from Parkinson's disease. The disorder, which gets worse overtime, is marked by shaking limbs and slow movement.

In a study with fruit flies, scientists from the UK found that the drug ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is used to reduce the acids that play a role in liver disease, can also address a mutation of the LRRK2 gene, which is known as the most commonly inherited cause of Parkinson's disease.

Mutation of the gene can lead to problems with the mitochondria, otherwise known as the powerhouse of the cell. The reduced energy of the cell is one cause of several diseases of the nervous system, which include Parkinson's albeit researchers admitted that how that leads to the disease is still unclear.

"Whilst we have been looking at Parkinson's patients who carry the LRRK2 mutation, mitochondrial defects are also present in other inherited and sporadic forms of Parkinson's, where we do not know the causes yet," said Oliver Bandmann, from the University of Sheffield. "Our hope is therefore, that UDCA might be beneficial for other types of Parkinson's disease and might also show benefits in other neurodegenerative diseases."

For their study, which was published in Neurology on Aug. 7, the researchers tested the drug in lab dishes and found that the UDCA had good effects on mitochondrial function. The results prompted the researchers to proceed testing it on a live model.

The researchers fed fruit flies with the LRRK2 mutation and found that the mutation slowly reduced the visual function of the flies, which allowed them to measure the progression of the disease. They noticed that in flies that received the drug, the degeneration of the brains slowed, which means that the drug has potentials in treating LRRK2-related Parkinson's.

"The beneficial effect of UDCA on mitochondrial function in both NM-LRRK2G2019S and M-LRRK2G2019S as well as on the function of dopaminergic neurons expressing LRRK2G2019S suggests that UDCA is a promising drug for future neuroprotective trials," the researchers wrote in their study.

Parkinson's disease is also known to cause dementia, depression and sexual difficulties.

Photo: Petras Gagilas | Flickr

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