A waste substance found in the blood that is linked with gout and diabetes has been found to protect against the effects of Parkinson’s disease, a study has found.

High levels of urate, which is produced as a waste by-product of normal metabolism, can actually protect the brain against the degeneration of key nerve cells seen in Parkinson’s patients, scientists said.

A study involving genetically modified laboratory mice found that higher-than-usual amounts of urate in the bloodstream appear to reduce the loss of cells that produce dopamine, a neuro-transmitter that is lacking in Parkinson’s patients.

Mice with abnormally low urate levels suffered a significantly greater loss of dopamine cells in the brain. Scientists believe the results suggest that urate, an anti-oxidant, could protect Parkinson’s patients from further neuro-degeneration.

“Our study is the first demonstration in an animal model that genetic elevation of urate can protect dopamine neurons from degeneration and that lowering urate can conversely exacerbate neuro-degeneration,” said Xiqun Chen of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, follows earlier research showing that people with high levels of urate in their blood are less likely than other individuals to develop Parkinson’s disease.

Michael Schwarzschild, director of the hospital’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, said: “The biology of urate in the brain is largely unexplored. Understanding both urate’s mechanisms of protection and the way its levels are regulated in the body will help us to determine how to better harness its protective effects, if they are substantiated.”