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Halting hallucinations


Dr. Philippe Huot, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology, Université de Montréal, Movement Disorder Neurologist, Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal
New Investigator Award: $89,984 over two years

Scientific title: mGlu2 receptors and psychosis in Parkinson’s disease

Seeing shadows, bugs, or familiar or strange faces of people who aren't actually there are just a few of the vivid visual hallucinations and psychoses that effect 60 to 75 per cent of people with advanced Parkinson's disease. These frightening experiences sometimes result in long-term care placement.

“It's a very important problem that's having a very detrimental impact on patients and caregivers' quality of life,” says Dr. Philippe Huot.

Huot, a neurologist and assistant professor at the Université de Montréal, is investigating areas of the brain that have been linked to visual hallucinations, and the proteins involved in these neural pathways.
He measures the level of mGlu2, a protein involved in visual hallucinations, in post-mortem tissue samples from the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, as compared to samples from the brains of people who did not have Parkinson's.

The protein, mGlu2, regulates glutamate, an amino acid in the brain that transport signals from one brain cell to another. Currently, only one medication – clozapine – is effective in treating visual hallucinations and other types of psychosis. But clozapine requires regular blood monitoring because of its potentially dangerous side effects.

If Huot can show that people with Parkinson's have reduced levels of mGlu2 in a particular area of the brain, he could then test new drugs that have not yet been licensed to see if they bind to the protein to enhance its function. Increasing mGlu2's function could enable glutamate to better do its work and transmit signals in the brain, hopefully alleviating the hallucinations.

“Determining which areas of the brain and which receptors are involved is very important, because then we can develop more effective therapies,” Huot says.

As a teenager, Huot was fascinated by the model of a brain that his father, a psychologist, kept in his office. That fascination led Huot into a career that allows him to both care for patients with Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders, and to conduct research that he hopes will relieve one of the most troubling phenomena that people with this illness experience.

“I've always been intrigued by the brain,” he says simply.