The crystal structure of Parkin, a protein found in cells that when mutated can lead to a hereditary form of Parkinson's disease, has been determined by researchers at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom.
The results, which are published in The EMBO Journal, define the position of many of the mutations linked to hereditary Parkinson's disease and explain how these alterations may affect the stability and function of the protein. The findings may in time reveal how the activity of Parkin is affected in patients with this rare but debilitating type of Parkinson's disease.
Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects more than seven million people worldwide. Most cases of the disease occur in older individuals and are sporadic (non-familial), but around 15% of patients develop symptoms early in life because of inherited mutations in a limited number of disease genes. Why Parkin mutations are especially detrimental in nerve cells is not fully understood, but previous research indicates that Parkin regulates the function of mitochondria, the organelles that generate energy in the cell. Some disease mutations in the PARKIN gene can be easily explained since they lead to loss or instability of the Parkin protein, but many others are more difficult to understand.
The crystal structure of Parkin is already revealing some of the secrets of this molecule, which under the right conditions can protect cells from the damage that arises during Parkinson's disease. "In time the structure may also allow development of other compounds that alter Parkin activity, which could serve as ways to limit the progression and impact of Parkinson's disease," concluded Komander.