Dr. Dagda research team discovers possible link between psychological distress, Parkinsons’s and immune system dysfunction with possible implications to the current pandemic

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The Dr. Ruben Dagda research team poses outside of UNR Med

The Dr. Ruben Dagda team poses for a group photo prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. From left to right: Melanie Shackleford, Emmanuel Vazquez-Mayorga, Mariana Grigoruta, Ruben Dagda, Michelle Pisane, Smijin Soman, Marayann Swain, Raul Dagda and Davd Tingle. Photo courtesy of Ruben Dagda. 

Ruben Dagda, Ph.D., associate professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology and physiology, and his research group collaborated with Mariana Grigoruta, M.D., Ph.D., a former graduate student with Dr. Dagda's research group, and Alejandro Martinez, Ph.D., from the University of Juarez in Mexico published "Psychological distress and lack of PINK1 promote bioenergetics alterations in peripheral blood mononuclear cells" in Scientific Reports. The study shows how psychological distress can alter the level of energy in immune system cells and increase the risk of symptoms of Parkinson's disease in a rat model of Parkinson's disease. 

"UNR Med is immensely proud to have Dr. Dagda be part of this this important international research collaboration. We congratulate the entire research team for their work in advancing the knowledge needed to find ways to improve patients' lives, said UNR Med Dean Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D. Dr. Dagda's research and the international team are a testament to the global research capabilities at UNR Med."

The study discovered mechanisms that explain how psychological stress not only affects the energy level in the brain but also affects the immune system and its ​energy level required to respond to infections, and how stress worsens Parkinson's disease symptoms and fatigue. Although this study was conducted in normal and rats with Parkinson's disease, it may be relevant to the current pandemic as it suggests Parkinson's patients, who can be associated with prior viral infections, may be unable to mount efficient immune responses to infections because immune system cells show altered energy production and psychological distress worsens their energy production and antioxidant capacity. 

This paper is a follow up study to a manuscript published in Molecular Neurobiology last year, "Psychological stress phenocopies brain mitochondrial dysfunction and motor deficits as observed in a Parkinsonian rat model," which discovered that long term, not short term, exposure to psychological distress can promote symptoms of Parkinson's disease, reduce the energy levels in the brain by 50% and alter brain neurochemistry in typical rats. That studied also involved the collaboration of Dr. Martinez' research, Dr. Mariana Grigoruta and Raul Dagda.

Both studies are funded by the NIH and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia (Mexico). Dr. Dagda and his research groups are developing future innovative intranasally-delivered therapies to treat symptoms, fatigue and reverse neurodegeneration in a different preclinical study. 


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The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Released: Tuesday June 30, 2020 @ 6:00 AM