The study, funded by the Parkinson´s Disease Society and published online by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today (2 March 2010), identified for the first time how two genes, parkin and PINK1 – work together to remove damaged mitochondria from nerve cells.
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 Sheffield studied cells from fruit flies to see how parkin and PINK 1 behaved inside them.
Dr Alex Whitworth, of the University´s Department of Biomedical Science who led the study, said: “We know that parkin and PINK 1 play a crucial role in making sure that damaged mitochondria are quickly removed from the cell. 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.”
Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at the Parkinson´s Disease Society, added: “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% 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. At the Parkinson´s Disease Society we are passionate about finding a cure and better treatments for people with Parkinson´s, and this development moves us closer towards this goal.”
Notes for Editors: The Parkinson´s Disease Society (PDS) is the leading authority in the UK on the condition and a world leader in research. We campaign for a better quality of life for people with Parkinson´s wherever they live in the UK. We provide expert information on all aspects of Parkinson´s and a local support network for people with Parkinson´s, their carers, families and friends. We are the UK´s leading non-commercial funder of research into the cause, prevention and improved management of Parkinson´s and are confident that our work will help lead to a cure. We are totally dependent on voluntary donations.
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