Possible Cause Of
Parkinson's Disease Uncovered
By Merritt McKinney
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- Abnormal accumulation of a protein normally found in the human brain may be responsible for neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease, according to a new study in this week's Science.
The protein, alpha-synuclein, ``is normally produced in the brain but when overexpressed, it may accumulate in the brain and lead to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's,'' lead study author Dr. Eliezer Masliah of the University of California San Diego in La Jolla told Reuters Health. In normal amounts, the protein appears to play a role in communication between nerve cells, but in high amounts, it ``disrupts the function of (brain cells) and eventually kills them,'' he explained.
In order to study the role of the protein in neurodegenerative diseases, Masliah and colleagues created mice that produced the human version of the protein in their brains. The researchers noted several changes in the brains of these mice that are similar to changes seen in human subjects with diseases that affect the function of the brain. One of these was the formation of particles in cells that resembled Lewy bodies, which are abnormal cell particles found in parts of the brain affected by Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease in humans.
Along with these changes, Masliah's team found that the mice also developed weak muscles and tremors. ``The movements of the mice decreased... limb strength is decreased and we see tremors in their body,'' Masliah said. He noted that these activities are controlled by areas of brain that appear to be damaged by the accumulated protein, and that people with Parkinson's display similar characteristics.
This research may lead to treatments for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, Masliah commented. But he noted that because the protein is normally found in human brains and presumably plays a role in important functions, a drug that blocks the protein entirely would not be useful. ``We need something that blocks the (accumulation) of the protein, but not something that blocks the function of the protein,'' he said. SOURCE: Science 2000;287:1265-1269.


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