Cognitive Impairment - Dr. Catharine Winstanley - New hope to halt compulsive gambling
Dr. Catharine Winstanley
Investigating the therapeutic potential of an adjunct GSK3beta inhibitor in ameliorating risky choice caused by chronic dopamine agonist administration
For people with Parkinson’s disease, it’s usually a tremendous relief to find a drug to treat the tremors, stiffness or the freezing that causes some of them to halt in place.
But for a significant minority of people – up to 20 percent – the class of drugs that is often most effective in controlling these motor symptoms comes with a devastating side effect. These synthetic dopamine drugs, called dopamine agonists, can introduce risky behaviour, including compulsive gambling that may cause people to drain their life-savings or ruin their relationships.
At the University of British Columbia, behavioural neuroscientist Catharine Winstanley uses animal models to investigate the link between a protein called GSK3beta, and the impulse control problems some people develop when taking these drugs.
The risky behaviours often make both doctors and people with Parkinson’s reluctant to start the synthetic dopamine drugs.
Although GSK3beta is associated with several psychiatric disorders, so far researchers don’t know its precise role in causing them. What they do know is that certain other drugs, including lithium and new lithium derivatives, seem to block GSK3beta, preventing the development of impulse control problems.
People with Parkinson’s could take both the synthetic dopamine agonists and the additional medication, relieving their motor symptoms without jeopardizing their supportive relationships and livelihood.
The heart-rending effects of compulsive gambling and other impulsive behaviours compelled Winstanley to tackle this research project, she says. She empathizes with people with Parkinson’s, whose hopes are raised by the prospect of taking the dopamine agonist medication, only to have those hopes dashed when the risky behaviours emerge.