QBI researchers have made a surprising finding about how the brain plans movement that may lead to more targeted treatments for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The discovery was made by Professor Pankaj Sah (pictured right) in collaboration with neurologist Professor Peter Silburn and neurosurgeon Associate Professor Terry Coyne from the UQ Centre for Clinical Research.

Professor Sah said the team examined the brains of 10 patients with Parkinson’s disease while the patients were awake during deep brain stimulation surgery, and found more than one part of the brain is responsible for planning movement.

“This study aimed to improve understanding of how different parts of the brain are involved in planning movement and controlling gait,” Professor Sah said.

The team was particularly interested in a part of the brain stem known as the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN), which lies in the deepest part of the brain.

“To date, we have known that walking is generally controlled by the outer part of the brain known as the cortex,” Professor Sah said.

“We have also known that neurons in the PPN are activated during limb movement, but our study has shown they were also activated when patients were simply thinking about walking.

“This is a complete surprise, because the general thinking has been that movement planning takes place in the cortex, but this study indicates it might be happening in the brain stem as well.”

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease, affecting more than six million people globally, and about 1 in 350 Australians.

Professor Sah said improved understanding of how the brain plans movement could lead to more targeted treatments for people with Parkinson’s.

All the patients treated with deep brain stimulation also recorded positive outcomes with improvements in gait, highlighting the importance of neuroscientists working more closely with clinicians.