Until five years ago, scientists investigating Parkinson’s disease were frustrated in their attempts to unravel the biochemical mechanism of this debilitating disease. Lacking an animal model, they were limited to observing its progressive symptoms in humans and to post-mortem examinations of the brain tissue of Parkinson’s patients.

Then, in 1983, J. William Langston, now director of the California Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease and Related Disorders, in San Jose, identified MPTP as the agent responsible for producing several Parkinson-like paralysis in drug addicts who had injected themselves with impure batches of “synthetic heroin.” From that discovery there followed an explosion of papers on MPTP—from a handfull 1983 to more than 150 in 1987. Moreover, “Neurotoxin MPTP and the dopaminergic system in Parkinson’s disease” was recently identified as one of the 30 hottest fields of 1987 by the Institute for Scientific Information (see The Scientist, June 13, page 20).

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