Science & Tech
McGill researchers unlock Parkinson's clues

McGill University in Montreal


Canadian researchers have made a discovery that could lead to better treatment for Parkinson's disease.

Scientists at McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital have determined the three-dimensional structure of the protein Parkin.

The hereditary form of Parkinson's is caused by a mutation in the Parkin protein.

Parkinson's is caused by cell degeneration stemming from a buildup of defective mitochondria, an energy source for cells. The Parkin protein is supposed to protect neurons from cell death.

The scientists were able to alter the structure of Parkin to make it better at detecting damaged mitochondria, thereby staving off cell death.

While most cases of Parkinson's are not hereditary, the findings could still have widespread implications.

"The majority of Parkinson's patients suffer from a sporadic form of the disease that occurs from a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors which are still not fully understood," Dr. Edward A. Fon said in a press release.

"A minority of patients have genetic mutations in genes such as Parkin that cause the disease. Although there are differences between the genetic and sporadic forms, there is good reason to believe that understanding one will inform us about the other. It's known that toxins that poison mitochondria can lead to Parkinson's-like symptoms in humans and animals. Recently, Parkin was shown to be a key player in the cell's system for identifying and removing damaged mitochondria."

"If we can reproduce this response with a drug rather than mutations, we might be able to slow the progression of disease in Parkinson's patients," co-author Dr. Kalle Gehring added.

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