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Children's Neurologist Gains Insight into Potential Treatments for Movement Disorders

May 28, 2004

Seattle, Wash.: Research at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle is helping to define new ways of looking at brain function from a presynaptic perspective, providing insight into how neural networks actually function and illuminating new details of brain physiology. The results of the study, "Heterosynaptic Dopamine Neurotransmission Selects Sets of Corticostriatal Terminals," were published in the May 27th issue of the journal Neuron.

Seattle, Wash.: Research at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle is helping to define new ways of looking at brain function from a presynaptic perspective, providing insight into how neural networks actually function and illuminating new details of brain physiology. The results of the study, "Heterosynaptic Dopamine Neurotransmission Selects Sets of Corticostriatal Terminals," were published in the May 27th issue of the journal Neuron.

"Much still remains unknown about how the human brain functions, especially amongst those with movement disorders, such as Huntington's or Parkinson's disease," said Dr. David Sulzer of Columbia University, a major collaborator in the study. "This research brings scientists closer to understanding and mapping what is occurring in the brain at a synaptic level, and reveals the great potential for future study and treatments for these types of disorders."

The study investigated how dopamine affects the release of glutamate, a major neurotransmitter in the brain involved in motor control. Varying levels of dopamine are associated with numerous developmental, neurological and psychiatric disorders, including dystonia, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and drug dependence.

The research focused on determining the effect of dopamine, a brain chemical that regulates the firing of neurons, on synaptic function in the brain. Using data from studying mice, the research found that dopamine selectively reduces glutamate release by activating presynaptic receptors located on glutamate nerve endings. The most active nerve endings were selectively resistant to dopamine, while the remaining nerve endings saw reduced activity.

"This research may lead to more effective treatment for the types of diseases related to problems caused by the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and glutamate," said lead-author Nigel Bamford, MD, pediatric neurologist at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center and assistant professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

"Ultimately, this research may help explain the mechanism underlying drug addiction and could serve as a model to see what drugs and other treatment may be most useful to control drug dependence."

The study was funded in part through a grant from Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center and the Child Neurology Society, a non-profit professional association of pediatric neurologists. A link to the study and an accompanying commentary about the research may be found at www.neuron.org.

About Seattle Children's Hospital

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Children’s has been delivering superior patient care and advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org.

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