Doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital have found what they believe to be a connection between the “red hair” gene and an increased likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Lead author Xiqun Chen and her team found that the gene that causes red hair (MC1R) doesn’t just make skin more susceptible to skin damage but can also affect the chemicals in the brain.
They found that as mice who have the MC1R gene aged, their brains produced less dopamine - an essential part of the brain’s arsenal in attacking the toxins that can lead to the disease.
“This study is the first to show direct influences of the melanoma-linked MC1R gene on dopaminergic neurons in the brain and may provide evidence for targeting MC1R as a novel therapeutic strategy for PD,” says Xiqun Chen
This would seemingly confirm the widely-held belief that people with Parkinson’s Disease are at a lower risk of all cancers except melanoma while melanoma patients are at a higher risk of Parkinson’s.
To find this link the team examined a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, this is where dopamine-producing neurons are destroyed in Parkinson’s disease.
What they found was that the mice with the MC1R had fewer dopamine-producing neurons than the control mice that did not have the gene mutation.
As the mice aged they found the MC1R mice had “developed a progressive decline in movement and a drop in dopamine levels.”
It’s not all bad news though, the researchers believe that by finding this link further research could result in new treatments.
“Our findings suggest further investigation into the potential of MC1R-activating agents as novel neuroprotective therapies for PD,” says Chen, an assistant professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School.