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Asthma drugs reduce Parkinson's risk by 50%, decade-long study finds

Published on 05/09/17 at 08:57am

A study from the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway has revealed that commonly prescribed asthma drugs have the ability to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by around 50%.

The study, which lasted for a decade, utilised data from 100 million prescriptions from the Norwegian Prescription Database in cooperation with researchers at Harvard University, conducting tests using drug compounds on synthesised human and animal neurons to identify beneficial effects.

It was found that common asthma treatment salbutamol, which is used to relieve symptoms of the disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, had a positive effect on the development of Parkinson’s. The drug works by activating protein receptor β2AR, which relaxes the airways of the lungs; however, the study found that this receptor is involved in the encoding of the α-synuclein protein, which forms amyloid plaque accumulation in the brain – a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.

Throughout the study, 75% of asthma drugs tested reduced expression of α-synuclein in neuroblastoma cells while protecting neurons which are normally destroyed by Parkinson’s disease.

“Our analysis of data from the whole Norwegian population has been decisive for the conclusion in this study,” explained study author Professor Trond Riise. “These medicines have never been studied in relation to Parkinson's disease. Our discoveries may be the start of a totally new possible treatment for this serious disease. We expect that clinical studies will follow these discoveries.”

Using the same logic, the study also discovered that blood pressure drugs such as beta blocker propranolol have the opposite effect, doubling the risk of Parkinson’s in those taking the drug.

It is estimated that one in 500 people are affected by Parkinson’s worldwide. While the drugs tested are not currently approved for the treatment of the disease, the study could be a key step in developing a greater understanding of its causes and potential therapies.

Matt Fellows

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