Under the microscope the diseases of the brain look different. Parkinson’s Disease generally affects the cells that produce a chemical called dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. These cells start low down in the brain and the midbrain, called the substantia nigra – the black substance. And then, project up to the middle of the brain, what we call the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is like Mission Control in the brain. They regulate all the activity for physical activity, such as motor function as well as thinking and mood.
These are all affected because the pathology of losing that dopamine in the brain affects all the circuits that go through that region – the basal ganglia or the striatum of the brain. On top of losing dopamine cells, we also see the loss of other cell types that produce chemicals, such as those that produce noradrenaline serotonin and acetylcholine, and all of those cells and transmitters are important in a lot of the non physical aspects of Parkinson’s such as mood, memory, sleep. I think it’s important to recognise that these often overlap, making the challenge much harder when we’re treating Parkinson’s Disease patients.