Scientists have made a discovery which can help protect the brain from developing Parkinson’s disease.
The experts at the University of Dundee have discovered a new molecular switch that acts to protect the brain from developing the neurological condition.
The findings have helped scientists understand how genetic mutations in a gene called PINK1 lead to Parkinson’s in patients as young as eight years old, which could eventually lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the condition.
But despite intensive research, the target of the PINK1 enzyme (which is made by the PINK1 gene) has eluded scientists for almost a decade.
Now the Dundee team has found that PINK1 switches on a protein called Parkin, whose main job is to keep cells healthy by removing damaged proteins. Mutations in the gene that makes Parkin can also cause inherited forms of Parkinson’s in younger patients.
The team was led jointly by Dr Miratul Muqit and Professor Dario Alessi at the University of Dundee.
Dr Muqit said: “Parkinson’s is a devastating degenerative brain disorder and currently we have no drugs in the clinic that can cure or slow the disease down.
“Over the last decade, many genes have been linked to Parkinson’s but a major roadblock has been determining the function of these genes in the brain and how the mutations lead to brain degeneration.”
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Parkinson’s UK, the J. Macdonald Menzies Charitable Trust and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.