Patients with Parkinson’s disease suffer from a deficiency in the signal substance dopamine in the brain. This deficiency creates unbalanced activity in the deeper parts of the brain, leading to symptoms of stiffness, tremor and inhibited movement.

Recent research has highlighted the fact that signals in the nervous system need to contain just the right amount of background noise to work properly. As the brain ages, the levels of background noise decrease, and this decrease is believed to be significantly greater when dopamine nerve cells are lost, as is the case in Parkinson’s disease.

Trials have recently been carried out to present the brain with sensory noise through the sensory organs. The method has given positive results when used with children with ADHD, and with patients with impaired balance. Scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, have now investigated for the first time how the chemical signalling systems in the brain are influenced by external sensory noise.

Experiments on a rat model of Parkinson’s disease have shown that stimulation of the balance organs with electrical noise improves the motor ability of the rats by 25%. This is an improvement that is as large as that achieved using the drugs most commonly used to treat Parkinson’s disease.

The study, to be published in the prestigious journal PLoS One, shows that noise stimulation of the balance organs increases the release of a special amino acid that counteracts the effects of dopamine deficiency in the brain.

“This is the first study to show that sensory noise can improve motion by changing nerve signalling in the brain”, says Filip Bergquist, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

Since noise stimulation is relatively simple and can be carried out with ordinary skin electrodes, Filip Bergquist and his colleagues at the Sahlgrenska Academy hope that the method can be used as a supplement to existing treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

The scientists are planning to carry out a pilot study next year in collaboration with NASA, testing the method directly on people with Parkinson’s disease.

“We are collaborating with a research group at NASA that has developed a portable stimulator unit for the balance organs. They use it to study the rehabilitation of astronauts who have lived in weightless conditions”, says Filip Bergquist.

The study will be published in PLoS One on January 6.

Filip Bergquist, Institute for Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy, Gothenburg University.

Image: Digital image of sensory noise waves.