According to a new study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, researchers have finally unearthed the cause of a mysterious, fatal brain disease that make patients experience Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms such as low blood pressure, tremors and rigid muscles.
The disease, which is known as MSA or Multiple System Atrophy, although rare, is absolutely devastating. Recently obtained statistics suggest that MSA affects three in every 100,000 people over 50 years of age. During this new study, researchers have found that an infectious protein similar to the one causing Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease or the human form of mad cow disease is responsible for causing MSA.
People with MSA usually experience symptoms when they are in their 50s and the next 5 to 10 years see their health declining rapidly. Their motor function drops significantly as the disease progresses.
The proteins identified by the researchers as the possible cause of MSA are called prions. They are proteins known for being folded abnormally and forcing other proteins to develop a similar fold. This nature of prions can have destructive consequences.
The research team, under the leadership of Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the director of University of California’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease, examined brains of 14 subjects, each of whom was diagnosed to be suffering from MSA.
The specimens collected from the brains of these participants were analyzed, and it was found that they possessed the ability to infect other healthy cells as well as rodents with the fatal brain disease.
The researchers informed that this prion, known as alpha-synuclein, is the first one to be identified in the past 50 years.
The associate director of Colorado State University’s Prion Research Center Mark Zabel said that although this disease is contagious, it doesn’t have the ability to cause an epidemic. He explained that in labs, the disease is transmitted into animals using a needle so that it hits the creatures in the head; that usually doesn’t happen to wildlife or human life.
Zabel, an integral part of the research team, stated that the most likely sources of this infectious disease are operating rooms or clinics.
Although all subjects got MSA spontaneously, the researchers have cautioned that doctors must be extremely careful when using deep brain stimulation. This will eliminate the possibilities of infecting others with the disease.