Commonly prescribed asthma drugs have been found to reduce a patient's risk of developing Parkinson's disease by as much as 50% in a decade-long study.
Although the study, from the Department of Global Public Health at the University of Bergen and Harvard University, also uncovered worrying data about the impact of blood pressure drugs, specifically propranolol, which seems to increase the risk.
Since 2004, Professor Trond Riise has looked at over a thousand medications and 100 million Norwegian prescriptions to find a correlation, he said: "These medicines have never been studied in relation to Parkinson's disease."
Salbutamol, which usually comes in a blue inhaler and is marketed as Ventolin among other names, is used to relieve symptoms of asthma and COPD such as coughing, wheezing and feeling breathless.
The medication has this positive effect because it turns on a protein receptor (β2AR), that relaxes the muscles of the airways into the lungs, and opens them making it easier to breathe.
The study indicated that the receptor targeted by this drug is also connected to the process of encoding the protein α-synuclein, the same protein which is responsible for forming the 'amyloid plaque' clumps in a brain that has Parkinson's.
Although they aren't entirely sure whether α-synuclein is the toxic protein, it is clear that asthma drugs (75% of the ones tested in the study) reduced expression of the α-synuclein gene in neuroblastoma cells and protected neurons typically destroyed by Parkinson's.
"It's an exciting clue" that could point the way toward new treatments for the neurodegenerative disease, says Clemens Scherzer of Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
"Our discoveries may be the start of a totally new possible treatment for this serious disease. We expect that clinical studies will follow these discoveries."
Parkinson´s disease is a chronic disease with unknown causes. The disease destroys the brain cells that control body movements. Shivering, stiff arms and legs and poor coordination are typical symptoms of Parkinson´s. The symptoms may develop slowly, and it sometimes takes time to make a correct diagnosis.
It's thought around 1 in 500 people are affected by Parkinson's disease, which means there are an estimated 127,000 people in the UK with the condition.