New Insights Into Parkinson’s Disease
First Published: Investigator - October 2005
Updated: World First for Parkinson's Team
Dr Wei Ping Gai, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Human Physiology, and his team of researchers here at Flinders are focusing on the cause of brain cell death associated with Parkinson’s.
Sufferers of Parkinson’s experience a range of symptoms that affect the sensory system, musculature problems such as body tremors and stiffness, and psychological difficulties such as depression, panic attacks and fatigue.
This disease largely affects the elderly community, however of the thousands of Australians diagnosed each year, approximately 10% are under the age of 40.
A recent discovery into the processes behind this disease has found that a typically normal protein, alpha-synuclein (AS), acts as a major component in the creation of Lewy bodies, abnormal clusters of proteins within nerve cells in the brain. This toxic substance has been linked to the brain cell death associated with the development of degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Working with the human brain Dr Gai and his team of researchers are keenly interested in the reactions that take place within this AS protein, which are caused by outside antagonists such as gene mutation or environmental factors, leading to the toxicity that causes brain cell death.
For many years Dr Gai has undertaken a great deal of research into the abnormal brain matter associated with neurodegenerative diseases. During this time two new elements were discovered that seem to play major roles in Parkinson’s and similar diseases.
A molecule LRRK2 was found to have a detrimental effect on the brain and more importantly an ubiquitin, a protein that marks unhealthy proteins for destruction, was also found.
“We found that this ubiquitin somehow specifically labels the aggregated protein AS for destruction,” says Dr Gai.
Further research is hoped to be undertaken here at Flinders in the near future to investigate the interactions that take place between these three important factors; the alpha-synuclein protein, the LRRK2 molecule and the ubiquitin, within Parkinson’s disease.
This research could provide another stepping stone in ascertaining the mechanisms behind Parkinson’s and other similar debilitating diseases. It will also provide new information in the use of antibodies for better diagnosis and treatments.