New discovery brings hope for treatment of Parkinson’s disease

Experiments with a “curly” brain protein have shown that it can inhibit the spread of Parkinson’s disease in laboratory tests. The discovery can be an important step on the way to developing treatment for the incurable disease.

[Translate to English:] Det er et tiltagende tab af nerveceller i hjernen, som er skyld i de rystende, langsomme bevægelser og demens, som er kendetegnende for Parkinsons sygdom.
[Translate to English:] Det er et tiltagende tab af nerveceller i hjernen, som er skyld i de rystende, langsomme bevægelser og demens, som er kendetegnende for Parkinsons sygdom.

Parkinson's disease has long remained an unsolved mystery for the researchers. Experiments by a French-Danish research team now shed new light on the disease and provide hope that the spread of the disease in the brain can be inhibited. Parkinson's disease gives rise to shaking, slow movements and dementia, which are the result of an increasing loss of nerve cells in the brain.

Studies have previously shown that the people affected by the disease have an accumulation of a specific protein - the so-called alpha-synuclein - in the brain and that this protein curls wrongly and spreads in the brain. Further studies of this protein have now brought the research a step closer to a method of treatment. The results have recently been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Good wins over evil

The researchers have conducted tests with curling proteins similar to those that accumulate in the brains of people with Parkinson's disease. The protein, which is only one millionth of a millimetre, was created in two different forms. While both bunched together, as previously known from patients, their impact on the surrounding cells turned out to be very different. 

One killed the cells and started a chain reaction, where the toxic properties were transferred to new cells, so that the cells were altered forever. Exactly as happens in the nerve cells of patients with Parkinson's disease. The other one did not kill the cells. At the same time this form of the protein also inhibited the proteins with the toxic properties from spreading, once they were blended together. The difference between the two types of the protein lay in the way in which they folded themselves.

"The result is surprising because it shows that the protein can have good and bad properties and actually inhibit spreading. It shows that we will probably have the opportunity to block the process that begins when people get Parkinson's disease. This is a big step in the right direction and it means we can hope to develop a treatment against the disease in the long term," says Professor Poul Henning Jensen from Aarhus University.

New experiments will test the effect

The next step in the research is to test whether the 'good' form of the protein can cure the toxic form in various trials, where it is tested on the disease in laboratory tests.  

"If the "good" form of the protein does not have the effect we hope for, you might be able to use the new knowledge to develop a chemical substance that has the desired effect, so the research results open new doors in the research," says Poul Henning Jensen. 

The result is not only relevant for the research in Parkinson's disease, but also in relation to the next most frequent form of dementia, which is called dementia with Lewy bodies. Here the patients accumulate the same protein in the brain and lose nerve cells just like with Parkinson's disease.

For more information

Read the scientific article

About Parkinson's disease

  • Approx. 7,000 Danes have Parkinson's disease. Worldwide approx. 12 million people suffer from the disease.
  • The cause is unknown and for this reason the disease cannot be treated.
  • On average patients are 61 years old when diagnosed, but the disease also affects younger people, with the youngest in their late twenties.
  • The main symptoms are tremors, muscular rigidity and slow movements.

Source: Parkinsonforeningen

Further information

Professor Poul Henning Jensen
Aarhus University, Department of Biomedicine
Direct tel: +45 8716 7793
Mobile: +45 2899 2056