A handful of genes have been identified in inherited cases of Parkinson's disease. The research team of Dr. Ming Guo, the study team leader, associate professor of neurology and pharmacology and a practicing neurologist at UCLA was one of two groups worldwide that first reported in 2006 in the journal Nature that two of these genes, PTEN-induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1) and PARKIN, act together to maintain the health of mitochondria - the power house of the cell that is important in maintaining brain health. Mutations in these genes lead to early-onset Parkinson's disease.
In this study, the team found that the new gene, called MUL1 (also known as MULAN and MAPL), plays an important role in mediating the pathology of the PINK1 and PARKIN.
The study, performed in fruit flies and mice, showed that providing an extra amount of MUL1 ameliorates the mitochondrial damage due to mutated PINK/PARKIN, while inhibiting MUL1 in mutant PINK1/PARKIN exacerbates the damage to the mitochondria. In addition, Guo and her collaborators found that removing MUL1 from mouse neurons of the PARKIN disease model results in unhealthy mitochondria and degeneration of the neurons.
The study has been published in eLife.