Protection from Parkinson's in mice
Recent research shows that an increased level of a protein found in the brain can provide protection from Parkinson's Disease in mice.
In Parkinson’s, brain cells – neurons – slowly become impaired and messages get disrupted. Because the area of the brain involved is responsible for movement, the body’s muscles are unable to function in a smooth and coordinated manner.
Researchers engineered mice to have extra copies of a gene for a protein called Nrf2, produced by astrocyte cells in humans and in mice. Astrocytes are brain cells which have been found to play a protective role against neuron death. When they exposed the mice to a chemical known to cause Parkinson’s, the mice did not develop the disease. The chemical was not toxic and the neurons were saved.
Because Parkinson’s is usually only diagnosed once neuron damage has occurred, the next step is to carry out long-term experiments in mice to see if it is possible to reverse the damage once it has taken place. This will depend heavily on whether the neurons are dead or just dysfunctional.
More promising though is the potential for medicines that can activate Nrf2 to a high level. These would be potent therapies not only for Parkinson’s but also for other neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s, where astrocytes have also been implicated.
Please see our Your Health page on Parkinson’s Disease and our About Research page on GM mice