U. SHEFFIELD (UK)—Researchers have identified for the first time how two genes work together to remove damaged mitochondria from nerve cells. The finding offers a new lead for potential Parkinson’s treatments.
People with Parkinson’s don’t have enough of the chemical dopamine because nerve cells in the brain die, and nerve cells lost to Parkinson’s often contain damaged mitochondria. Mitochondria produce all the energy that cells in the body need to work properly.
The team at the University of Sheffield studied cells from fruit flies to see how the two genes—parkin and PINK 1—behaved inside them. Their findings have been published online by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We know that parkin and PINK 1 play a crucial role in making sure that damaged mitochondria are quickly removed from the cell,” says study leader Alex Whitworth, of Sheffield’s Department of Biomedical Science. “This ensures that all of the remaining mitochondria provide the cells with enough energy to work efficiently. We have discovered a potential way that shows how parkin might help remove damaged mitochondria.”
Kieran Breen, director of research and development at the Parkinson’s Disease Society—which funded the study—adds: “This is an important step forward in understanding what happens in the nerve cells which are lost in Parkinson’s when there are faulty genes.
“We know that about 5 percent of people inherit Parkinson’s and this may be due to mutations in the PINK1 or parkin genes. Understanding more about what these genes do and how mutations may kill nerve cells will give us a clue as to how to keep cells healthy. From this, we may be able to slow down or even stop Parkinson’s from progressing.”
University of Sheffield news: www.shef.ac.uk/mediacentre/