Progressive Supranuclear Palsy: A “prime of life disease”

Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a rare brain disorder that affects the nerve cells in the brain that control walking, balance, mobility, vision, speech, and swallowing and gradually worsens over time. It affects an estimated three to six in every 100,000 people worldwide—or approximately 20,000 Americans—according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

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While one of the most classic identifying symptoms for PSP is the inability to aim and move the eyes properly, the most frequent first symptom to arise is the loss of balance while walking. This can appear in the form of unexplained falls, stiffness, or awkwardness in gait.

Some symptoms are very similar to those in Parkinson’s disease, including stiffness, movement problems, and clumsiness for example, but PSP, true to its name, progresses much quicker. Other distinctions between the two disorders are seen symptomatically through things like postural differences—people with PSP tend to stand exceptionally straight or with their head tilted backwards whereas people with PD are typically bent forward—while others have more to do with the pathology of the disease. In PSP, the most prominent protein accumulation seen in the brain is tau, but the most prominent protein found in a Parkinson’s brain is alpha-synuclein.

Living with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy

In the CurePSP produced video below, hear one family’s touching story of how a PSP diagnosis has changed their lives.

A close partner of the neurodegenerative disease-related centers here at Penn, CurePSP identifies as one of the leading nonprofit advocacy organization focused on prime of life diseases with the goal of understanding their causes and discovering potential treatments, and has funded more than 160 research studies. 

* CurePSP recognizes the following as prime of life diseases: Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD), Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), Motor Neuron Disease (MND), Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and  Multiple System Atrophy (MSA).

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