Parkinson's disease causes brain cells to completely exhaust themselves and burn out, leading them to expire prematurely, according to new research.
The study - which was carried out by Canadian scientists and has been published in Current Biology - could explain why only certain parts of the brain are affected when a person develops the condition.
Parkinson's is a progressive disease that is caused by a loss of nerve cells in particular areas of the brain, but why some cells are vulnerable in the first place is still a mystery to scientists.
The condition is marked by a tremor, muscular rigidity and slow, imprecise movements, and It primarily affects middle-aged adults and the elderly.
Current figures estimate that around 127,000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
Researchers from the University of Montreal used mice models to study brain cells and found that unlike similar cells, the neurons involved in the development of the condition were complex and had many more branches.
In addition, the cells in question had much higher energy requirements, producing more waste products in order to meet these needs.
The scientists involved in the research claim that it is this accumulation of waste that triggers the death of cells in Parkinson's disease.
Professor Louis-Eric Trudeau, lead author if the study, said: "Like a motor constantly running at high speed, these neurons need to produce an incredible amount of energy to function. They appear to exhaust themselves and die prematurely."
The University of Montreal team hopes that its findings can be used in the creation of experimental models of the disease, which could subsequently lead to new treatments for patients.
Researchers believe that a form of medication could one day be developed to reduce the energy requirement of affected cells or increase their energy efficiency.
Dr Arthur Roach, at the charity Parkinson's UK, said: "This study provides strong support to the idea that it is the unique structure and function of these cells that makes them especially susceptible to a damaging process called oxidative stress.
"We hope that this study will rekindle interest in the approach, and even lead to new treatments based on the most up-to-date ideas about oxidative stress."
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