Mouse Model May Unlock Secrets of Rare Brain Disease

Multiple system atrophy is often mistaken for Parkinson's

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WEDNESDAY, March 23, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare degenerative brain syndrome that is often mistaken for Parkinson's disease.

Right now, doctors have no drugs specifically tailored to treat MSA, but researchers say a newly designed mouse model could change all that.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine say the new strain of mice display symptoms similar to human MSA, and they are hopeful it will lead to new drug targets.

"With this animal model, we now can plan tests of potential therapies for Multiple System Atrophy as part of our drug discovery program for Parkinson's disease, MSA and related disorders," Virginia M.Y. Lee, director of Penn's Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, said in a prepared statement.

This is the first mouse model for MSA, a collection of neurodegenerative disorders that affects multiple parts of the nervous system and was once believed to be three separate diseases. MSA includes three related disorders: olivopontocerebellar atrophy, which affects balance, coordination and speech; striatonigral degeneration, which causes slow movement and stiff muscles; and Shy-Drager syndrome, which causes altered bowel, bladder and blood pressure control.

Other general MSA symptoms include blurred vision, impaired speech, dizziness, and breathing and swallowing difficulties. Many patients develop dementia in later stages of MSA, which is most often diagnosed in people over age 50.

Currently, there are no specific drugs to treat MSA. Drugs for Parkinson's disease are among those used to treat early symptoms of MSA.

The research appears in the March 24 issue of Neuron.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about MSA.

SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, news release, March 23, 2005

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