CATEGORY: News

Parkinson’s disease

UCSF discovery may lead to new treatment to halt degeneration.

Robert Edwards, UC San Francisco

Robert Edwards, UC San Francisco

Parkinson’s disease patients have not benefited from any new type of standard treatment in decades. Even so, there have been important discoveries about the disease that may lead to whole new treatment strategies.

Researchers at UCSF, working with nerve cells grown in the lab and with mice, now have discovered an important role for the protein that was first found to be associated with Parkinson’s disease more than a decade ago. Researchers had not previously identified a functional role for the protein, called synuclein.

Parkinson’s disease runs in families with extra copies of the synuclein gene, and autopsy studies indicate that levels of the protein in brain tissue are elevated in all forms of Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s disease patients have not benefited from any new type of standard treatment in decades. Even so, there have been important discoveries about the disease that may lead to whole new treatment strategies.

The new research reveals that abnormally high levels of synuclein in the brain impair the firing of synapses — the transmission of signals between one nerve cell and the next. This happens long before typical disease symptoms appear. The discovery may lead to new drug development aimed at halting the relentless progression of the disease. Current therapy only treats symptoms.

The lead scientist behind the new discovery is UCSF neurologist Robert Edwards, MD, who studies the molecular basis for signaling at synapses and who also treats patients with Parkinson’s disease.

“Synuclein is the central protein in Parkinson’s,” Edwards says. “The reason why we think it’s important is because synuclein deposits in the brains of everyone who has Parkinson’s disease.” Synuclein is made by nerve cells – called neurons by scientists – and normally is found at synapses.

But synuclein also deposits in the brain of Parkinson’s patients, suggesting that these aggregates may cause the disease.

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