Scientists find gene that causes Parkinson`s disease

Updated: Jul 29, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

London: Scientists have identified a gene
responsible for developing Parkinson`s disease, a discovery that could lead to new ways to treat the degenerative disorder.

Researchers at Stanford University, California, found a molecule, called microRNA, which causes the death of nerve cell in the brain, triggering Parkinson`s disease.

Describing their discovery as a "significant step
forward" in the battle against the degenerative disease, the
scientists said it would pave the way for new drugs that could
block the molecule`s action in its tracks.

Parkinson`s is a progressive neurological condition
resulting in tremor, difficulty in moving and loss of balance
that`s usually diagnosed after the age of 60, although one in
twenty sufferers is fewer than forty.

A person with Parkinson`s will only develop symptoms once
around 80 per cent of these cells are lost, so they may have
had the condition for some time before problems come to
attention, the Telegraph reported.

The researchers, who carried their study on common
fruit fly Drosophila, found that the gene variant results in
impaired activity of chemicals which fine-tune protein
production in cells.

Lead author Prof Bingwei Lu said: "MicroRNA, whose role
in the body has only recently begun to be figured out, has
been implicated in cancer, cardiac dysfunction and faulty
immune response.

"But this is the first time it has been identified as a
key player in a neurodegenerative disease."

The new findings, published in the journal Nature, showed
how the mutation trips up normal activity leading to
overproduction of at least two proteins that can cause brain
cells to die.

Prof Lu and colleagues noticed that laboratory flies with
the gene variant had high levels of these proteins after
developing brain damage associated with Parkinson`s.

And toning down the levels of these two proteins
prevented the death of dopamine nerve cells in the flies.

Prof Lu said: "The flies no longer got symptoms of
Parkinson`s. This alone has immediate therapeutic
implications.

"Many pharmaceutical companies are already making
compounds that act on these two proteins, which in previous
studies have been shown to be associated with cancer.

"It may be possible to take these compounds off the shelf
or quickly adapt them for use in non-cancer indications such
as Parkinson`s."

Currently available drugs for the disease temporarily
alleviate its symptoms but can have undesirable side effects,
and they don`t prevent dopamine cells from dying.

Prof Lu said: "The clinical impact of our findings may be
five to 10 years down the road. But their impact on our
understanding of the disease process is immediate."

Dr Kieran Breen, director of research at Parkinson`s UK,
hailed the new study, saying: "This breakthrough represents a
significant step forward towards developing treatments that
will actually stop the process of nerve cell death something
no current treatments can do."

PTI