One of the more difficult challenges faced by sufferers of Parkinson’s is dealing with the jerky, uncontrollable movements caused by the devastating neurological disorder.
Now, scientists at the Parkinson’s Institute may have found a surprising treatment to reduce those movements: nicotine.
In a study released today, the scientists report that monkeys treated with nicotine had significantly fewer episodes of the jerky movements, known as dyskinesias, compared with monkeys that did not receive nicotine.
The study appears to be the first to examine nicotine as a treatment for dyskinesia, but it builds on a larger body of research that shows some promise for nicotine’s ability to ease Parkinson’s symptoms and reduce the disease’s progression.
In the study, researchers gave nicotine-laced orange Gatorade to monkeys previously treated with a drug that mimics the symptoms of Parkinson’s. They then gave the monkeys levodopa (L-dopa), a leading drug used to reduce the tremors and speech problems that are a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.
The researchers found that the nicotine-treated monkeys had up to 50 percent fewer episodes of dyskinesia, compared with monkeys that had not received nicotine before being given levodopa.
When the researchers gave the monkeys nicotine after treating them with levodopa, the monkeys experienced up to 35 percent fewer dyskinesias. In addition, the nicotine did not seem to worsen the disease itself.
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Annals of Neurology.
“This is exciting, a good leap forward,” said Jonathan Brotchie, a Parkinson’s disease researcher with the Toronto Western Research Institute.
However, Brotchie and other Parkinson’s researchers not involved in the study cautioned against making too much of results, even promising ones, in monkeys. And, Brotchie said, because nicotine is potentially toxic in large doses and can create other health problems, researchers may have to develop a different drug that mimics how nicotine acts, rather than use nicotine itself.