By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
The term neurodegeneration is a combination of two words - "neuro," referring to nerve cells and "degeneration," referring to progressive damage. The term "neurodegeneration" can be applied to several conditions that result in progressive loss of neuronal structure, function and neuronal death.
Some of the more well known neurodegenerative disorders include:
All of these conditions lead to progressive brain damage and neurodegeneration. Although all three of the diseases manifest with different clinical features, the disease processes at the cellular level appear to be similar. For example, Parkinson's disease affects the basal ganglia of the brain, depleting it of dopamine. This leads to stiffness, rigidity and tremors in the major muscles of the body, typical features of the disease.
In Alzheimer's disease, there are deposits of tiny protein plaques that damage different parts of the brain and lead to progressive loss of memory. Huntington's disease is a progressive genetic disorder that affects major muscles of the body leading to severe motor restriction and eventually death.
Research focuses on the similarities in neurodegeneration that occur in all of these three diseases. This can provide clues in the development of new therapies and therapeutic strategies that may benefit patients in any of the three conditions. Cell death and deposition of abnormal proteins and plaques, for example, is a feature common to all three disorders.
Neurodegeneration may be identified at the molecular level and at the systemic or more generalized level. With age, the risk of DNA mutation increases, as well as the risk of cell damage induced by oxidative stress. These factors increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders developing.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc