The drug ecstasy relieves the symptoms of Parkinson's disease in mice, a team of researchers has found.
The scientists did not look at the drug's effects in people, and do not advocate self-medication. "We don't want to give the idea that every Parkinson's patient should be standing on the street corner trying to buy amphetamines," says team leader Marc Caron, a cell biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Nevertheless, the team is hopeful that their findings may point to new treatments for Parkinson's, a debilitating disorder in which patients lose the ability to control their actions.
Caron's team looked at genetically altered mice that lack the brain chemical dopamine. As in humans with low dopamine levels, these mice exhibit Parkinson's-like symptoms, such as tremors and stiff limbs.
The team then dosed the mice with chemicals, looking for drugs that might alleviate their symptoms. What worked best, they found, was methylenedioxymehtamphetamine (MDMA), a drug better known as ecstasy.
But MDMA did not raise dopamine levels, hinting that it restores movement through an unknown mechanism outside of the dopamine system.
The team also found that a combination of MDMA and the current Parkinson's drug L-DOPA, a chemical building block of dopamine was more effective than either drug alone.
"This suggests that maybe low concentrations of these amphetamines, or compounds related to them, could be potentially used as add-ons to L-DOPA," says Caron. The study is reported inPloS Biology.
Caron aims to search for drugs that act similarly to MDMA. He does not advise giving MDMA to Parkinson's patients, but hopes to find other chemicals that mimic its effects.
The new results are ironic, given that three years ago a study suggested that ecstasy might cause Parkinson's-like symptoms in monkeys. But the researchers who published that study retracted it after they realized they had mixed up ecstacy with methamphetamine, commonly known as speed.
Published online 2 August 2005
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