For years, people have used a plant hormone called kinetin to slow the most evident signs of aging — those pesky wrinkles that tend to crop up in our the skin. But new evidence suggests that kinetin could potentially also provide a more important life-altering therapeutic use altogether: slowing the death of brain cells associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
The new research, published in the journal Cell, focuses on a protein called PINK1 tied to certain genetic forms of PD, and its activity in the body’s mitochondria, the part of the cell that's responsible for converting energy into usable forms.
Here’s the basic idea behind their research:
Another protein in the body, called Parkin, is believed to detect, and then clear out, damaged mitochondria from the cell. In PD cases associated with mutations in PINK1, however, Parkin doesn’t seem to do its job, and it’s thought that the damaged mitochondria that remains might lead to the cell death that causes the disease.
So this team of researchers, from Howard Hughes Medical Institute and led by Kevan Shokat, PhD, and with support from The Michael J. Fox Foundation, decided to find a way to get Parkin back to work. They focused on increasing the activity of the mutated PINK1 toward achieving this goal, and during the course of their laboratory research, they found that kinetin did increase this activity. They also found that, when PINK1’s activity was amplified, more Parkin attacked the damaged mitochondria. This was a good thing: it also slowed the death of the neurons that die in PD.
These are intriguing findings to be sure, and they come at a time when the field on the whole has spent a lot of time thinking about how to get Parkin to function properly toward slowing the progression of PD. Just this summer, four separate groups published papers defining the structure of Parkin, information that could go a long way toward developing drugs that act against its malfunction.
Kinetin, for its part, is especially interesting for an additional reason, explains Shokat, namely “because it’s already sold in drugstores as a topical anti-wrinkle cream. So it’s a drug we know has been in people and is safe" (although just because it’s safe as a topical drug, doesn’t necessarily mean it would be safe taken internally). Repositioning drugs for other indications is something the Foundation has long had its eye on, as it can greatly reduce the time it takes to bring new drugs to market..
The prescribing of kinetin to treat PD is still a long ways off, but in the meantime, says MJFF’s Senior Associate Director of Research Programs Sonal Das, PhD, these findings are good for the field. “We’re hopeful that Dr. Shokat’s research will further underscore PINK1’s potential as a therapeutic target for PD. We’re optimistic that all of this research related to Parkin could go a long way toward finding new treatments for patients in the not-too-distant future.”