Clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein are common to the brains of all people with Parkinson’s; unfortunately, there are more questions than answers as to whether and how alpha-synuclein plays a direct causative role in the disease. For this reason, scientists are investigating various therapeutic options targeting alpha-synuclein build-up, including: stopping the protein from clumping in the first place, breaking up existing clumps, or halting the toxic effects of the clumps.
This week, a study from the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago offers new insight into the biological process that might be making these alpha-synuclein aggregates, called Lewy Bodies, toxic: It’s a mechanism that the study authors say resembles a virus.
“To date, the field has had difficulty trying to understand if toxicity of alpha-synuclein aggregates might lead to the dopaminergic cell death that causes the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,” says Kuldip Dave, PhD, senior associate director of research programs at The Michael J. Fox Foundation.
“This study suggests that such toxicity might, and it homes in on a particular process where cellular subunits called lysosomes are rupturing during the disease process. It’s this rupture which may, in turn, release toxic content into the cells, leading to the death of dopamine neurons.”
The findings are compelling — the field still knows little about the biological processes behind PD. Knowing more about the disease mechanisms at work would allow pharmaceutical companies to begin to create drugs to counteract them.
Still, the authors of the research stressed the early nature of their findings (from a cultured cell dish), which would need to be replicated in more advanced pre-clinical models before ever playing a role in clinical research.
Learn more about alpha-synuclein and Parkinson’s disease (PD) at the Foundation’s Web site.