A gene which is connected to Parkinson's disease can serve to keep brain cells alive. This has been revealed by the University of Colorado researchers, which has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
The results suggest the possibility for new drugs that might regulate the gene and protect Parkinson's patients from further cell damage. Parkinson's disease is a disorder that occurs when dopamine cells in the brain die or are damaged, making it increasingly difficult to relay movement messages from the brain to the body.
The researchers performed a detailed analysis of a gene known to be linked to Parkinson's disease called DJ-1. They showed that DJ-1, when functioning properly, can prevent dopamine cell death in the brain. If the DJ-1 gene is abnormal and doesn't function properly, it can lead to the onset of neurodegeneration, particularly Parkinson's disease.
The researchers found that over-expressing the gene in dopamine cells can protect the cells from different kinds of chemical stress, showing that the gene plays a pivotal role in keeping dopamine cells healthy. The authors point out that if the cells are subjected to oxidative stress, then the DJ-1 gene turns on the production of the antioxidant peptide, glutathione.
When acting in this way, the DJ-1 protein can also modify itself and absorb the damage caused by oxidative stress, thus protecting other important cellular function in the process. On the other hand, if damaged proteins are accumulating and harming the cells, then DJ-1 turns on the production of a different protein called Hsp70 to help clean up the abnormal proteins.
'Our research shows how a genetic cause of Parkinson's disease works. We show how the normal function of the gene keeps dopamine cells from dying. If the gene is abnormal, these protective mechanisms cannot be brought into play,' said co-researcher Curt Freed.
'If we can find drugs that increase activity of the DJ-1 gene, we may be able to stop the relentless progression of Parkinson's disease even in patients who don't have mutations in the gene. Stopping a disease in its earliest stages would be a tremendous breakthrough,' he said.