Auckland University researchers have made a major advance in discovering how Parkinson's disease spreads in the brain.
Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative condition which affects the motor system, making coordinated movement difficult.
The study reveals pathological proteins (known as Lewy bodies) in Parkinson's disease could be spread from cell to cell.
"Well the hope is that if we can actually slow down that spread of the Lewy bodies, or control the spread a little bit, then we can potentially slow down the spread of the disease through the brain," says lead researcher, Associate Professor Maurice Curtis from the University's Centre for Brain Research.
It's hoped the findings will help to advance treatment of the disease.
"This new mechanism of pathology spread provides us with new targets to go after for development of Parkinson's disease treatments.
"The traditional way of thinking about Parkinson's was that there was a susceptible area in the brain and if you could fix that area then the next most susceptible area would soon be affected.
"But if the Parkinson's disease pathology spreads, then it may be possible to stop it in its tracks."
The study shows the mechanism that cells use to spread the Lewy bodies is via structures called tunnelling nanotubes that channel the proteins between the cells.
But researchers say they still need to do some work to see whether this mechanism is at work in the brain as well as in a cell culture dish.
The work was funded by the Neuro Research Charitable Trust. The study was published in Scientific Reports - Nature.