Could antidepressants slow march of Parkinson’s?

Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine, Research Center
The Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center off Monroe Avenue downtown. (Sept. 25, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After years working to fight Parkinson’s, Grand Rapids researchers have made a breakthrough that could help slow the progression of the disease.

“So after 35 years of working in the field in general, it was like, ‘Finally, something,'” said Tim Collier, a professor of translational science and molecular medicine who was among the first group of researchers to come to Grand Rapids with the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

Up until recently, he explained, there were no tools for researchers to target a protein called alpha-synuclein that builds up in the brains of those with Parkinson’s. Now, his team thinks it has come up with a way to do so. The key is in antidepressants like nortriptyline.

“We hit the jackpot. Turned out that nortriptyline binds to alpha-synuclein and prevents it from clumping and aggregating, and so it has the potential then to essentially slow the progress, the pathology, and keep people functional for a much longer period of time,” Collier said.

“It’s eureka, pretty much,” he added.

That “eureka” didn’t come from anything new. In fact, the class of antidepressants at the center of the research — tricyclic antidepressants — was the first class to be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration more than 50 years ago.

The next step is clinical trials. All of the evidence so far is from inside the lab.

“The prediction would be since it seems to act to slow the pathology so it would be most effective in people who are newly diagnosed,” Collier said.

He cautioned it’s not a cure.

“This is something we hope makes it manageable as a chronic disorder,” he said. “And we’re positioning to make a big of part of that.”

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MSU College of Human Medicine