The researchers wanted to find out whether a genetic predisposition to produce more or less dopamine is related to the mobility of people who have a certain degree of frailty but do not suffer from dementia, Parkinson’s disease or any other neurological disorder.
A gene variant affecting dopamine levels appears to have a significant influence on mobility in old age, according to the results of a new study involving researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. The study was published in the English-language journal “Journal of The American Geriatrics Society”.
The mobility of older and frail adults appears to depend on a variation in a gene that regulates brain dopamine levels. This finding could lead to the development of pharmacological preparations that maintain mobility in old age.
Role of the COMT gene was investigated
What does mobility in old age depend on?
Various genetic factors have an influence on dopamine signal transmission. In their study, however, the researchers focused on a gene called COMT, which breaks down dopamine to control its levels in the brain.
Influence of dopamine levels on movement
They also analyzed the participants’ frailty status, which is characterized by a decline in physiological functions, poor adaptation to stressors and susceptibility to health impairments. The researchers suspected that frail participants might be particularly susceptible to the differences in dopamine levels caused by COMT.
Therefore, the team studied this gene in more than 500 adults over 65 years of age, excluding all individuals who were taking dopamine-related medication or who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The researchers then looked for possible associations between genotype, frailty and walking speed.
In older, frail adults, those with a high dopamine genotype were more likely to maintain a faster gait. They also appeared to be more resistant to mobility impairments with increasing age
The researchers found that frail participants with a high dopamine COMT genotype had a 10 percent higher walking speed compared to participants with a low dopamine COMT genotype.
There are many people whose dopamine levels are at the lower end of normal levels and who do not have Parkinson’s disease or psychiatric conditions, the experts explain. The question for future studies is whether people affected become more resistant when they are given dopamine.
The team also tried to find out which dopamine levels could give older people greater resistance to walking and movement restrictions. It was hoped that one day pharmacological dopamine preparations could help older adults with low dopamine levels to maintain their mobility.
This difference of ten percent may seem small, but for a frail person who wants to cross a busy street, they can make a big difference, the experts explain in a press release.
WashingtonNewsday Health and Wellness.