Parkinson’s Might Be Detected Early Using Visual Profiling

Malika Ammam, PhD avatar

by Malika Ammam, PhD |

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Parkinson's disease

York University researchers have reported a new method of visual profiling that could help in the early detection of Parkinson’s disease. The study, titled “Classification of Parkinson’s Disease Genotypes in Drosophila Using Spatiotemporal Profiling of Vision,” was published in Scientific Reports.

Parkinson’s is a disorder that affects motor neurons, resulting in difficulties with movement like rigidity, slowness, and shaking. As no laboratory test exists that can clearly identify the disease, its diagnostic relies mainly on medical history and neurological exams performed after motor symptoms emerge. Hence, an early diagnostic of Parkinson’s would be of benefit.

In this study, the researchers examined the nervous systems of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) that carry Parkinson’s mutations by registering their reactions to visual patterns adapted from methods used by people. The outcomes from mutated flies with early onset Parkinson’s were compared with control flies without mutations.

The results suggested that young mutated flies showed increased neuronal activity to stimulation. By mapping the visual reactions of flies with different Parkinson’s genes, the scientists built large data banks of results that then allowed them to detect Parkinson mutations in unknown flies with 85% accuracy. Because more complex light stimulations were utilized, large numbers of genetic markers were recorded.

“Increased visual activity in young fruit flies with early-onset Parkinson’s mutations is a significant finding, as it may provide an early-onset biomarker for people at risk of Parkinson’s. Using 64 different combinations of visual stimuli, we now have a comprehensive bank of the reactions of fruit flies carrying different genetic mutations. We can see that fruit flies carrying different mutations have distinct patterns of visual responses, suggesting this is a reliable method in classifying Parkinson’s genotypes,” Dr. Ryan West, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research scientist in York’s Department of Biology, in the U.K., said in a news release.

Overall, these findings suggest the possibility of Parkinson’s early detection, before the emergence of motor symptoms, using changes in visual profiling. Visual profiling, the researchers noted, has previously demonstrated its accuracy in detecting genetic markers in humans. “We hope this method may be translatable to the clinic where changes in vision may provide an early indication of early-onset Parkinson’s,” Dr West added. “Such early detection is essential if we are to understand disease progression and develop novel therapeutics.”