In many patients, blocking the abnormal nerve signals helps alleviate some of the movement problems.
Stimulating the spinal cord could be an improvement over deep brain stimulation because it's considered semi-invasive and the electrodes are easier to implant, Nicolelis said.
In the study, researchers implanted a device to stimulate the dorsal column of the rodents' spinal cords, which carry tactile signals to the brain. While the spinal cord stimulation did not rid the animals of all symptoms, the rodents were able to take 80 percent less medicine.
"We see an almost immediate and dramatic change in the animal's ability to function," Nicolelis said.
Dr. Michael Okun, national medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation, said the results were "interesting."
"Although the observations are preliminary, they are intriguing given our current difficulty in treating dopamine-resistant gait disorders in human sufferers of the disease," Okun said. "More research will be required to confirm these effects before moving into human trials."
For now, deep brain stimulation remains one of the last options for Parkinson's patients. About 71 percent of patients who underwent the procedure experienced an improvement in symptoms, according to a study published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Doctors don't know precisely why the electrical stimulation works, though a study in the March 19 online issue of Science Express provides some clues.
Researchers from Stanford used a technique called "optogenetics" to study neural circuits in the brain. They found that in rodents with dopamine deficiencies, stimulating the neural wires called axons that converge in the subthalmic nucleas region of the brain had a greater effect on improvin
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