Asthma drugs could decrease risk of Parkinson's

Researchers have discovered that a class of drug commonly used to treat asthma could lower the risk of Parkinson's.

Results from an international study, published in the journal Science, found drugs which activate proteins called beta-adrenoceptors, protect brain cells in a mouse model of Parkinson's. 

Building on this, the study also showed that prescription asthma drugs which target these beta-adrenoceptors proteins reduced the risk of Parkinson's by half.

On the hunt for drugs which slow Parkinson's

The finding stems from a hunt for drugs that may stop the formation of toxic clumps of alpha-syncluein protein, believed to be responsible for the loss of cells in Parkinson's.

The researchers tested over 1,000 known drugs - many of which are in use to treat various medical conditions - for their ability to reduce alpha-synuclein levels. Drugs that activated beta-adrenoceptors were found to reduce the levels by up to 35%.

When analysing data from over 4.6 million individual prescription records, asthma drugs that activate beta-adrenoceptors - such as salbutamol (trade name Ventolin) - were linked to a reduced risk of Parkinson's.

However, drugs that block these proteins - which can be prescribed to treat heart and blood pressure problems - were linked to an increased risk of the condition.

Need to be explored further

Professor David Dexter, Deputy Director at Parkinson's UK, explains:

"These drugs appear to protect the cells destroyed in Parkinson’s, and produce small but significant changes in risk, which can only be seen when studying many thousands of people.

"However, medication for asthma is inhaled. Taking it orally, as you would need to do to treat Parkinson’s, would increase the risk of side effects, and this would need to be explored further.

"Currently there is no evidence that asthma medications may slow the condition for those who already have it, and this research does not suggest that people with Parkinson’s should stop taking drugs that help control blood pressure."

You can read the latest news and updates from the Parkinson's UK Research team on our official blog.

Find out more about this research discovery with David's behind the headlines blog post.