A zebrafish model for Parkinson's disease, recently developed by scientists, may prove instrumental in understanding the mechanism underlying its development.
The knowledge gained will be helpful for future screening of new drugs to treat Parkinson's disease (PD), say researchers at the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), a biomedical research institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.
This study describes the first zebrafish model for LRRK2 mutation-related PD. It is able to overcome some limitations of other animal models of LRRK2 and demonstrates that zebrafish, a tropical freshwater fish that can often be found in aquariums, can be used to study the development of human diseases.
To explore the biological functions of LRRK2, the research team, led by GIS Group Leader Dr Liu Jianjun, studied this gene in zebrafish by blocking its normal function. This resulted in Parkinsonism-like phenotypes in zebrafish, including locomotive defects and loss of neurons, similar to those of PD patients.
It was found from the study that the defects of the fish can be rescued by expressing the normal protein of LRRK2. Significantly, the administration of Levo-dopa (L-dopa), a compound that is widely used to treat PD, can also rescue the locomotive defects caused by the modification of the zebrafish LRRK2 protein.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a degenerative disease of the brain that often impairs motor skills, speech and other functions. The discovery of several gene mutations in affected patients clearly demonstrated the involvement of genetic factors in the development of PD.
"This work shows how the use of a simple model system in fish can help decipher the root causes of a serious human disorder like Parkinson's disease, " said Professor Edison Liu, Executive Director of the GIS.
The research has been published in PLoS Genetics on April 22, 2010.