Ecstasy as a brain booster for Parkinson's?
28 October 2006
IT COULD be a rave result for people with Parkinson's. It seems that ecstasy boosts the number of dopamine-producing cells in the brain - the type that decline in those with the disease. Or so rat studies suggest.
Previous human studies have suggested that ecstasy is bad for the brain because it damages serotonin signalling neurons, which play a role in memory. When Jack Lipton of the University of Cincinnati and his colleagues gave pregnant rats the drug they found no signs of damage in newborn pups.
Instead, they saw a threefold rise in the number of dopamine producing cells. These cells were also more highly branched and developed than normal, suggesting they functioned better.
Similarly, when cultured embryonic dopamine cells were exposed to ecstasy, roughly three times as many cells survived. The effect didn't vary much with increasing concentration, although particularly high doses did kill the brain cells.
Lipton believes that ecstasy prevents the programmed cell death that normally occurs when neurons are stressed, as happens in certain degenerative diseases including Parkinson's, and in cell cultures.
Lipton suggests that some promising new ecstasy-like drugs might one day be used to boost dopamine-producing cells in people with Parkinson's - without damaging other neurons in the brain. The work was presented at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Atlanta, Georgia, last week.
From issue 2575 of New Scientist magazine, 28 October 2006, page 17