Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New drug target identified for fighting Parkinson’s disease


Researchers at Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Cell Engineering (ICE) have discovered a protein that could be the best new target in the fight against Parkinson’s disease since the brain-damaging condition was first tied to loss of the brain chemical dopamine.

Over the past year, the gene for this protein, called LRRK2 (pronounced "lark-2"), had emerged as perhaps the most common genetic cause of both familial and unpredictable cases of Parkinson’s disease. Until now, however, no one knew for sure what the LRRK2 protein did in brain cells or whether interfering with it would be possible.

Now, after studying the protein in the lab, Johns Hopkins researchers report that the huge LRRK2 protein is part of a class of proteins called kinases and, like other members of the family, helps control other proteins’ activities by transferring small groups called phosphates onto them. The researchers also report that two of the known Parkinson’s-linked mutations in the LRRK2 gene increase the protein’s phosphate-adding activity. The findings appear in the current (Nov. 15) issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We know that small molecules can interfere with this kind of activity, so LRRK2 is an obvious target for drug development," says Ted Dawson, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Neural Regeneration and Repair Program within ICE and a leader of the study. "This discovery is going to have a major impact on the field. It’s going to get people talking about kinase activity."

Because kinases affect a number of other proteins, LRRK2’s link to Parkinson’s may be a result of either its own activity or a shift in the activities of one or more "downstream" proteins.

"The next step is to prove that LRRK2 overactivity results in the death of brain cells that produce dopamine, the defining pathology of Parkinson’s disease, and to figure out how it does so," says Dawson, who cautions that the large size of the LRRK2 gene and protein could make clinical application of the Hopkins discovery years away.

"For example, we would want to isolate the active part of the LRRK2 protein and use that more manageable part to screen for molecules that would block its activity. But what takes us a second to think of could take four or five months to do," says Dawson. "These things may not come as fast as the field wants."

The LRRK2 protein, sometimes called dardarin, is 2,527 building blocks long. In contrast, the alpha-synuclein protein, the first to be linked to Parkinson’s disease, is only 140 building blocks long. The parkin protein, linked to more cases of familial Parkinson’s disease than any other to date (although LRRK2 is likely to break that record), is considered "big" at 465 building blocks long.

Undaunted by the size of the LRRK2 gene and protein, Andrew West, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow and co-first author of the paper, spent months extracting the full-length gene from human brain samples and developing reliable experiments to test how mutations affected LRRK2’s activity. Co-first author Darren Moore, Ph.D., also a postdoctoral fellow, built the tools to get bacteria to make mounds of LRRK2 protein and two mutant versions and also tracked down the LRRK2 protein’s location inside cells.

The research team’s experiments showed that the LRRK2 protein, in addition to its role as a kinase, actually sits on mitochondria, cells’ energy-producing factories, where it likely interacts with a complex of proteins whose failure has also been implicated in Parkinson’s disease.

Mutations in LRRK2 were first tied to Parkinson’s disease in 2004 and to date explain perhaps 5 percent to 6 percent of familial Parkinson’s disease (specifically so-called autosomal dominant cases, in which inheriting a single faulty copy of the gene results in disease) and roughly 1 percent of Parkinson’s disease in which there is no family history. But few of the gene’s genetic regions have been analyzed in depth.

"As researchers comb through the rest of the LRRK2 gene, it seems likely that more mutations will be found and that it will be tied to more varieties of the disease," says Dawson. What’s known about LRRK2 so far suggests that it might connect diseases long thought to be distinct, particularly Parkinson’s disease and conditions known as "diffuse Lewy body disease," named for the bundles of certain proteins that build up inside cells in the brain in affected people. As a result, studying LRRK2 might improve understanding of and eventually treatment for more than just Parkinson’s disease itself, Dawson says.

Joanna Downer | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia
21.10.2016 | Universitätsklinikum Magdeburg

nachricht New potential cancer treatment using microwaves to target deep tumors
12.10.2016 | University of Texas at Arlington

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>