Metformin may help in Parkinson’s disease

Researchers have found that a diabetes drug may help in certain types of Parkinson’s disease…


The neuroscientists at the University of Tübingen have identified a protein that plays an important role in the energy balance of cells. If the protein is missing, the energy balance is disturbed leading possibly to cell death and ultimately to the onset of the disease.

Using cell cultures, the research team has now shown that the diabetes drug metformin acts on the energy budget, thereby protecting the cells. The study has been published in the current issue of the journal Brain.

“When studying cells from a patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease we saw that they lack an important protein which regulates the energy production,” explains Dr Julia Fitzgerald at the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Tübingen.

As a result, the cells keep on producing energy in their mitochondria — the cells’ powerhouses — unchecked and less regulated. Energy production comes at the cost of the generation of free oxygen radicals. The radicals damage the cell and lead to ageing and, in the long term, sometimes to cell death.

“The diabetes drug acts like a brake in this process. It slows down the uncontrolled generation of energy, thereby protecting the cells from the negative effects,” the researcher reports.

The study provides another indication that diabetes drugs might have a positive influence on certain types of Parkinson’s disease.

“Only recently, an Anglo-American research collaboration showed that another diabetes drug can reduce movement disorder symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr Fitzgerald.

The new findings contribute to the development of personalised medicine which aims at treating the disease with interventions tailored to the underlying individual trigger factor in each patient.

In Parkinson’s disease, both hereditary predisposition and environmental influences play a role in the development of the disease. “Ultimately, the cause varies from person to person,” explains Dr Fitzgerald. “In the long term, our study will be beneficial to patients suffering from faulty energy production in cells.”

At present, there are no drugs available that may stop or slow down Parkinson’s disease, physicians may only treat symptoms. Worldwide, there are about 10 million people affected by the disease.