New Biomarker May Detect Parkinson's Disease before Symptoms Start

Researchers have determined that higher alpha-synuclein ratios are associated with greater autonomic dysfunction and more advanced disease stages, which suggests that an increased alpha-synuclein level may be a useful biomarker in Parkinson's disease patients.

Since there are no standard tests for Parkinson’s disease (PD), the neurological disorder is often diagnosed after brain cell destruction has already begun.

However, researchers in Boston recently detected elevated levels of the nervous system protein alpha-synuclein in the skin of PD patients, which may serve as a biomarker for disease severity before symptoms such as tremor and rigidity appear.

In their study published online in Neurology, Ningshan Wang, MD, and colleagues at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center wrote that a reliable biomarker for PD could help physicians more accurately diagnose the disease at an earlier stage and offer patients appropriate therapies before the disease progresses.

In an effort to find that biomarker, the researchers examined the autonomic nervous systems of 20 PD patients and 14 controls. After performing skin biopsies on the subjects’ legs, the study authors measured and compared the alpha-synuclein levels and nerve fiber densities of both patient groups.

At the conclusion of their study, the researchers found that patients with PD had higher alpha-synuclein ratios in skin nerves supplying sweat glands and pilomotor muscles than controls (P <0.01). The researchers also determined that higher alpha-synuclein ratios were associated with greater autonomic dysfunction and more advanced disease stages, which suggests that an increased alpha-synuclein level may be a useful biomarker in PD patients. Further studies on the protein’s role in PD are planned.