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Parkinson's disease (PD) is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It belongs to a group of conditions called movement disorders. The four main symptoms are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance. These symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen with time.
Parkinson's disease occurs when nerve cells, or neurons, in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra die or become impaired. Normally, these neurons produce an important brain chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals between the substantia nigra and the next "relay station" of the brain, the corpus striatum, to produce smooth, purposeful movement. Loss of dopamine results in abnormal nerve firing patterns within the brain that cause impaired movement.
Signals that control body movements travel along neurons that project from the substantia nigra to the caudate nucleus and putamen. These neurons release dopamine in the striatum.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. www.ninds.nih.gov
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