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Possible treatment and Prevention for Parkinson’s

The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

From the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research — you can donate by clicking the link.

Parkinson’s disease affects neurons in a particular brain region, when it develops brain cells have their mitochondrial activity cease and then the cells die. But now researchers have shown that supplying D-lactate or glycolate [two products of the gene DJ-1] can stop and even counteract this process, a huge step forward to finding a cure or even a way to prevent parkinson’s.

Adding the substances to cultured HeLa cells and to cells of the nematode C. elegans restored the activity of mitochondria and prevented the degeneration of neurons. They also showed that the two substances rescued the toxic effects of the weed killer Paraquat. Cells that had been treated with this herbicide, which is known to cause a Parkinson’s like harm of mitochondria, recovered after the addition of the two substances.

[Loony hint: HeLa cells are immortal cells, think cancer lines, that scientists commonly use to do research with. Nematodes and HeLa cells might not sound like a good comparison to the human brain, however when doing research scientists have an order to follow when doing research to do the least harm to animals and humans, hence the nematodes.]

It should be noted that both glycolic and D-lactic acids occur naturally in unripe fruits and certain kinds of yoghurt, so they are fairly harmless.

Now about the gene DJ-1, this gene, has been linked to Parkinson’s disease since 2003. So not really “new” news, however recent studies showed that DJ-1 belongs to a novel glyxolase family. The major function of these genes is assumed to detoxify aggressive aldehyde by-products from mitochondrial metabolism [in short they get rid of waste from the brain, in this case a specific type of waste]. What the research team did that was incredible was show that the products of DJ-1, D-lactate and glycolate, are actually required to maintain the high mitochondrial potential and thus can prevent the degeneration of neurons implicated in Parkinson’s disease.

Their experiments proved that both substances are quite literally lifesavers for neurons. By adding them to affected cells, in other words, cells treated with the environmental poison Paraquat or with a down-regulated DJ-1, decreased the toxic effect of the herbicide. It also restored the activity of the mitochondria and thus ensured the survival of the neurons.

“We do not yet understand how exactly D-lactate and glycolate achieve this curative and preventive effect, but the next step will be to investigate the molecular mechanism underlying this process”, say Hyman and Kurzchalia. In addition to further molecular investigation, they also have more concrete plans for the future: As Kurzchalia says “we can develop a yoghurt enriched with D-lactate: It could serve as a protection against Parkinson’s and is actually very tasty at the same time!” This is why the researchers have filed a patent for their finding.

Many diseases are associated with a decline in mitochondrial activity, not just Parkinson’s. Because of this, the researchers believe that the DJ1-products could have a general role in protecting cells from decline. This new finding might not just be the answer to parkinson’s, but it might also help stave off the normal cognitive decline that is caused by aging. Fingers crossed that this research continues to go well, no one should have to live with Parkinson’s.

Want to read more? You can find the full study —here!

Toyoda Y, Erkut C, Pan-Montojo F, Boland S, Stewart MP, Müller DJ, Wurst W, Hyman AA, & Kurzchalia TV (2014). Products of the Parkinson’s disease-related glyoxalase DJ-1, D-lactate and glycolate, support mitochondrial membrane potential and neuronal survival. Biology open PMID: 25063200

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