Norwegian researchers have found that using a common asthma medicine cuts in half the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease.
The scientists examined data from more than 100 million prescriptions and studied the effects of 1,126 different medicines over that last 11 years in Norway. They were looking to see which compounds might impact levels of the α-synuclein gene in neuroblastoma cells. α-synuclein is a protein that collects in the brains of people with Parkinson’s and forms clumps thoughts to impact motor function.
The drug screening turned up four molecules that had an impact. Three of these were asthma medicines that target the β2-adrenoreceptor (β2AR). And one of these lowered levels of the of the α-synuclein gene in the Parkinson’s impacted parts of the brain.
“Our analysis of data from the whole Norwegian population has been decisive for the conclusion in this study,” says Professor Trond Riise, who leads the study. The Norwegian research came after Harvard scientists had earlier found similar effects in animal tests and in lab experiments on brain cells.
“We analysed the whole Norwegian population and found the same results as in the animal testing at Harvard University,” Riise said. “These medicines have never been studied in relation to Parkinson’s disease.”
Riise and team looked at medical records of more than 4 million people in Norway between 2004 and 2014and discovered those taking salbutamol (also known as albuterol) had a far lower likelihood of developing Parkinson’s. Conversely, they found people on propranolol, a drug for treating high blood pressure that turns off β2AR, had double the risk.
The insights could prove a boon to Parkinson’s researchers and clinicians as despite its prevalence, few good treatments (let alone a cure) exist for the debilitating condition. “Our discoveries may be the start of a totally new possible treatment for this serious disease,” Riise said. “We expect that clinical studies will follow these discoveries.”