New Discovery About Parkinson’s Could Lead to New Treatments for Brain Diseases

Parkinson’s and dementia cure is on cards after a breakthrough by US scientists who have developed a new drug for the disease. The discovery published in the journal Scientific Reports, conducted experiment on mice and human brain tissue and identified a protein that prevents the death of neurons.

Known as alpha-synuclein, the protein performs a crucial function by repairing breaks that occur along the vast strands of DNA present in the nucleus of every cell of the body. Aggregates of alpha-synuclein, known as Lewy bodies, have long been connected to Parkinson’s and other form of dementia.

Now, a team of US scientists has shown that alpha-synuclein also keeps grey matter healthy – offering hope of a medication that simulates or boosts it in those with Parkinson’s or similar conditions.

Senior author Vivek Unni, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology in the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine, said: “This is the first time anyone has discovered one of its functions is DNA repair.”

“That’s critical for cell survival – and it appears to be a function that’s lost in Parkinson’s disease,” Unni added.

Researcher said that a small protein, alpha-synuclein, associated with cellular dysfunction and death in fact serves a critical function in repairing breaks in DNA.

Unni said he hopes that these findings lead to the development of methods to deliver alpha-synuclein proteins into the nucleus of cells or designing methods to replace its function.

Parkinson’s affects 1.5 million people in the United States alone and there is no cure.

Around a quarter of dementia cases are caused by alpha-synuclein fuelled Lewy bodies. It produces similar symptoms to Parkinson’s – meaning patients are often misdiagnosed, but the study published in Scientific Reports sheds groundbreaking light on the protein’s exact role in the brain.