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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Willis-Ekbom Disease (restless legs syndrome) research may lead to better zzzzzzz's

Willis-Ekbom Disease (restless legs syndrome) is a serious movement disorder related to Parkinson's Disease.  This disease causes significant impairment in many people's lives and affects children and adults.  It is well-known that WED/RLS has a major effect on the ability to get a restful night's sleep, which is the most prominently identified WED/RLS symptom.  The Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation (formerly known as Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation) is an excellent information resource for people suffering with this disease, and for medical professionals too.  The Web site may be located at www.rls.org; I encourage you to check out the Web site and consider joining this organization to give WED/RLS a strong voice.  Their publication, Nightwalkers, is always a resource of helpful, up-to-date information that includes some of the latest research.  Nightwalkers is published quarterly and I recently received a hard copy of the Fall 2012 publication.  There is an article, Exploring the Role of Glutamate in WED/RLS, in the Fall 2012 publication on page 13 that discusses recent research containing valuable information for people with WED/RLS . . . and possibly fibromyalgia.  Many people with fibromyalgia have WED/RLS.  This research may provide clues that connect these two illnesses and explain the sleep disorder that is prevalent in both.

The new research featured in the WED Foundation 2012 Fall publication is a study conducted by a Johns Hopkins team of scientists.  Dr. Richard P. Allen, the principle investigator, stated that glutamate-hyperarousal (glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter) would be a third major area of documented brain abnormalities in WED/RLS.  The three brain abnormalities are dopamine, iron, and now glutamate, if this research confirms the glutamate connection.  The most commonly used medications used for WED/RLS focus on dopamine imbalance, which can cause compulsive behaviors and make symptoms worse over time.  There is also no evidence that these drugs significantly improve the sleep disruption experienced by WED/RLS sufferers.  Johns Hopkins scientists believe the hyperarousal of the nervous system is due to the neurotransmitter, glutamate.  "This hyperarousal overwhelms the neurological process that slows brain activity for resting and sleep, creating an irresistible urge to move."  People with severe WED/RLS experience daytime fatigue, but still have an inability to sleep, because they aren't sleepy.  Normally there is an interruption of glutamate activity during rest and sleep, and the brain's cortex doesn't receive these glutamate sensory signals.  But people with WED/RLS continue to receive the glutamate sensory signals and the result is an increased excitability of the motor cortex.  "In a recent pilot, the Johns Hopkins team measured the combined levels of the neurochemical glutamate and glutamine, and discovered they were elevated in the thalamus of WED/RLS patients.  More glutamate and glutamine means more brain activity --  and less chance of rest or sleep."

This Johns Hopkins research will hopefully help to unlock the complex neurochemical processes that have a profound effect on our brain's functioning.  This research is an exciting advance in the effort to explain the WED/RLS sleep disorder, which may have implications for the sleep disorder experienced by so many fibromyalgia sufferers too.  If you would like to learn more about this research, you may contact Study Coordinator Tiana Krum at 410-550-1046 or via her e-mail tkrum1@jhmi.edu  Meanwhile, in our search for a restful night's sleep, may you have hope for future research that will provide the keys enabling all of us to have sweet dreams and cut some major zzzzzzz's!
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