Electrical deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a well-established method for treating disordered movement in Parkinson’s disease. However, implanting electrodes in a person’s brain is an invasive and imprecise way to stimulate nerve cells. Now, researchers have developed a new technique, called magnetogenetics, which uses very small magnets to wirelessly trigger specific, gene-edited nerve cells in the brain. In trials, the treatment effectively relieved motor symptoms in mice without damaging surrounding brain tissue.
In traditional DBS, a battery pack externally sends electrical signals through wires, activating nerve cells in a region of the brain called the subthalamic nucleus (STN). Activating the STN can relieve motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including tremors, slowness, rigidity and involuntary movements. In a step toward a less invasive treatment, Minsuk Kwak from the Yonsei Advanced Science Institute at Yonsei University in South Korea, Jinwoo Cheon from the Department of Chemistry also at Yonsei University and colleagues have developed a wireless method to effectively reduce motor dysfunction in people with Parkinson's disease.
In demonstrations in mice with Parkinson’s disease, the mice exposed to a magnetic field showed improved motor function to levels comparable to those of the mice without Parkinson’s. The team observed those mice that received multiple exposures to the magnetic field retained more than a third of their motor improvements while mice that received just one exposure retained almost no improvements. As well, the nerve cells of treated mice showed no significant damage in and around the STN, which suggests this could be a safer alternative to traditional implanted DBS systems, the researchers say.
The team believes this wireless magnetogenetic approach has therapeutic potential and could be used to treat motor dysfunction in people with early- or late-stage Parkinson’s disease as well as other neurological disorders, such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.