Exploring the Role of a Rogue Protein in Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease, affecting more than 10 million people worldwide. Characterized by “Lewy bodies,” clumps of protein composed primarily of alpha-synuclein, the disease gradually destroys brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating movement. Over time, patients develop symptoms such as tremor, rigidity, loss of movement control, and ultimately dementia.
Today’s new findings show that:
- In mice, clumps of misfolded alpha-synuclein traveled from the lining of the stomach and intestine to the brain, lending support to the theory that Parkinson’s may start in the gut (Collin Challis, abstract 468.15, see attached summary).
- Astrocytes, non-neural cells intertwined with nerve cells, may play a role in how alpha-synuclein travels from one brain cell to another (Jinar Rostami, abstract 13.07, see attached summary).
- Dopamine-producing cells derived from fetal tissue can survive for decades without immunosuppression after being implanted the brains of Parkinson’s patients, suggesting potential ways to proceed with stem cell therapies created in the lab (Curt Freed, abstract 287.02, see attached summary).
- An experimental drug reduced levels of alpha-synuclein in the brains of mice, suggesting a possible new therapeutic target (Sergio Pablo Sardi, abstract 602.29, see attached summary).
“Many diseases that cause brain cell death share a common feature: a misfolding protein that sets off a chain reaction of abnormal binding and clumping,” said press conference moderator Alice Chen-Plotkin of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “Today’s findings illustrate the progress we’re making in understanding how the accumulation and spread of alpha-synuclein leads to the death of brain cells that trigger Parkinson’s disease and point to new potential therapeutic targets.”
The research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as other public, private, and philanthropic organizations worldwide. Find out more about Parkinson’s disease at BrainFacts.org.