UC team discovers molecular plasticity mechanism in Parkinson’s disease

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A study led by neuroscientist Miguel Castelo-Branco, from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Coimbra (FMUC), reveals an amazing mechanism for functional reorganization of the brain.

Published in the prestigious PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), journal of the American Academy of Sciences, the study, carried out in collaboration with the Coimbra Hospital and University Center (CHUC), aimed to assess the brain’s reorganization capacity in initial phase of a neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson’s disease, and is part of a strategy to study the brain’s ability to readapt itself throughout life in health and disease.

To this end, the team, which also includes researchers from the Coimbra Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Translational Research (CIBIT) and the Institute of Nuclear Sciences Applied to Health (ICNAS), has uniquely combined a set of functional and molecular imaging methods that would allow evaluate eye movements, a function that in Parkinson’s disease is altered very early, by the participants in the project during the performance of very simple tasks.

The result of this study, says Miguel Castelo-Branco, is surprising “because plasticity has been demonstrated at the functional and molecular level in the adult brain, which is thought to have less plasticity than the young brain. Furthermore, this effect was seen in an early stage of a neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson’s disease. This shows the compensation reserves that our brain has, even in adversity”.

Knowing that the visual and motor systems are modified in Parkinson’s disease, the article now published, whose first author is CIBIT researcher Diliana Rebelo, demonstrated two things: “that the failure of the eye movement system is compensated in the early stages of the disease by increased recruitment of the part of the visual system that programs them.”

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