Homeostasis and Parkinson’s: Understanding the 2nd Dopamine Center
In my book “Possibilities with Parkinson’s: A Fresh Look,” the insular cortex is described as the second dopamine center. Researchers surmise that the second dopamine center contributes to the nonmotor symptoms associated with the disease and its individualistic presentation.
The second dopamine center is largely responsible for our “felt self,” which is the conscious sensation of, “How do I feel today?” Our body and brain require adjustments to maintain safe and even pleasurable body conditions.
The insular cortex acts as a central hub for processing relevant information related to the state of the body, as well as cognitive and mood states, thereby monitoring the regulatory process. Despite these crucial functions, the insula has been largely overlooked as a key region in contributing to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Unfortunately, this monitoring of regulatory processes can malfunction in Parkinson’s disease. The result is episodic breakdowns in regulatory systems connected to homeostasis. These episodic breakdowns can occur as either an amplification within the regulatory system or a blunting or suppression of the following:
- The sleep-wake cycle (circadian clock) and hyperarousal
- Regulation of body temperature in the heat or the cold
- Thirst and hunger regulation
- The default mode network, or resting “auto brain”
- Impulsivity and emotion regulation
- Histamine, cystine, and dripping nose
- “Felt self” and pain perception
- Postural stability and autopilot body movements (also affected by the basal ganglia)
These eight regulatory system breakdowns are attributed both to insular cortex malfunction and to symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. These conclusions are supported by scientific references beyond the scope of this column, so I have posted them on my website.
I’ve suggested that part of the explanation for the individualistic presentation of PD is due to the side effects of our constant use of a broken PD brain. Side effects include sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, deep fatigue, loss of concentration, and difficulties with motor sequencing, problem-solving, and social skills management. These may be connected to the second dopamine center malfunctions, and damage to both major dopamine centers (the insular cortex and the basal ganglia).
I demonstrate one symptom (among many) that looks like freezing gait, a stutter in my step, tangled feet not ready to walk. It seems to happen specifically when I am in autopilot mode and daydreaming in my head. Mrs. Dr. C says it is the old “can’t walk and chew gum at the same time” syndrome. At that point, something about daydreaming while using autopilot triggers a malfunction in automatic movement, like walking. Suddenly, I am no longer walking safely. If I am mindful of every step, then this malfunction does not occur (most of the time).
This has been described as the “performance affect,” meaning that when we are asked to perform (present in the eyes of others), it changes the level of attention we give to our movement, and thus affects our use of the broken autopilot.
This doesn’t apply only to walking. Any motor sequence can be part of autopilot programming. Mindful movement has become my mantra.
Mindful movement helps when dealing with autopilot malfunctions. I am also learning to deal with the auto-brain malfunction. This is the malfunction of the default mode network in connection to the insular cortex. My perception of it is a combination of a broken record, skipping over and over to see the same thing in my mind repeatedly, and flitting quickly from one topic to another while stuck in the broken record loop.
Without my intentional intervention, this broken record flitting can go on for hours. In my experience, nothing comes from it. It’s not only hours wasted but hours spent using a broken PD brain poorly. My brain is on a strict leash law. I don’t let it go wandering unattended — most of the time. No one’s perfect. I thank God, Mrs. Dr. C, and BioNews (the parent company of this website) for the opportunity to write these columns, which helps focus my efforts on managing PD.
I’m still working on homeostasis dysregulation problems. It is slow going. Training my brain to think differently is a long-term commitment. But if I look at homeostasis dysregulation with a shift in perspective, using a therapeutic holistic approach, I can see the utility of this episodic dysregulation as biofeedback. Being mindful every waking hour of every day, I can make a difference in my quality of life with this chronic illness.
It is as I’ve said, “Show up and lay one brick at a time.” Check back to see where the journey leads.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.