Massachusetts General Hospital finds 1st link between Parkinson's disease and red brain pigment

The first confirmed link between Parkinson's disease and a red brain pigment has been made by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"Brain samples of patients with Parkinson's disease have more red/yellow pigment compared to healthy controls," according to a March 21 news release. The findings are important, as researchers also determined that "the red pigment is toxic to neurons, as it is to skin cells that produce the pigment." 

Still, what the overall pigment findings mean for patients with Parkinson's disease is yet to be determined. Next, researchers will examine why these higher levels of pigmentation exist when the disease is present and if it plays any role in further progression of the disease.

The research, published in Progress in Neurobiology, expands on previous findings from a 2017 study led by the same team that highlighted how red hair and fair skin complexion genes are associated with melanoma. Now, similar findings for Parkinson's disease are piquing curiosity among experts. 

"It is even more intriguing given the fact that Parkinson's disease and melanoma are risk factors for each other," Xiqun Chen, MD, PhD, lead author and researcher in the department of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement.

The findings may be able to distinguish light and dark pigments "in the human brain as a biomarker for oxidative stress status, aging, and [Parkinson's disease]," researchers concluded.

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