Tagged: alpha synuclein

When you stop going native

 

Alpha synuclein is a protein that is closely associated with Parkinson’s. But exactly if and how it is connected to the neurodegenerative process underlying the condition, remains unclear. 

Last week researchers reported that removing a particular form of alpha synuclein in mice results in a very early onset appearance of characteristics that closely resemble the features of Parkinson’s that we observe in humans. This finding has caused some excitement in the research community, as not only does this tell us more about the alpha synuclein protein, but it may also provide us with a useful, more disease-relevant mouse model for testing therapies.

In today’s post, we will discuss what alpha synuclein is, explain which form of the protein was disrupted in this mouse model, review the results of the new study, and look at how tetramer stablising drugs could be a new area of PD therapeutics.

 


The 337 metre (1,106 ft) long USS Gerald R. Ford. Source: Wikipedia

Imagine you and I are standing in front of the world’s largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford.

It is a VAST warship – measuring in at 337 metres (1,106 ft) in length, 76 metres (250 feet) in height – and it is a wonder of engineering composed of over a billion individual components.

And as we are standing there, gazing up at this amazing machine, I turn to you and put a nut & bolt into the palm of your hand.

A nut and bolt. Source: Atechleader

You look down at it for a moment, then turn to me, puzzled.

And that is when I say: “I would like you to find (without aid/instructions) where on this ship versions of this particular type of nut and bolt live, and try to determine exactly what functions they have“.

Where would you even start?

What tools would you use for the job? Considering the size and complexity of the vessel, would you simply give up before even starting?

It sounds like a ridiculously daunting task, but this is in effect what neurobiologists are trying to do with their study of the  brain. They start with a protein – one of the functional pieces of machinery inside each cell of our body – and then try to determine where in the brain it lives (the easy part) and what it does exactly (the REALLY hard part – most proteins have multiple functions and different configurations).

A good example of this is the Parkinson’s-associated protein alpha synuclein:

 

Alpha synuclein. Source: Wikipedia

Alpha synuclein is one of the most abundant proteins in our brains – making up about 1% of all the proteins floating around in each neuron in your head – and it is a very well studied protein (with over 9700 research reports listed on the Pubmed search engine with the key words ‘alpha synuclein’).

But here’s the thing: we are not entirely clear on what alpha synuclein actually does inside the cell. 

Que? 

In fact, biologists are not even sure about what the ‘native’ form of alpha synuclein is!

What do you mean?

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EGCG: Anyone fancy a cuppa?

 

The clustering (or aggregation) of the protein, alpha synuclein, is a cardinal feature of the Parkinsonian brain, and it is believed to be associated with the neurodegeneration that characterises the condition.

As a result, many pharmaceutical and biotech companies are focused a great deal of attention on identifying novel compounds that can enter the brain and inhibit alpha synuclein from aggregating. Recently, a collaboration of companies published the results of an amazingly large study highlighting novel inhibitors.

But an interesting aspect of the results was the ‘positive control’ compound they used: Epigallocatechin Gallate (or simply EGCG)

In today’s post, we will review the results of the study, discuss what EGCG is, and look at what is known about this compound in the context of Parkinson’s.

 


Source: Cargocollective

Every now and then, the research report of a huge study comes along.

And by that, I don’t mean that the results have a major impact. Rather, I am referring to the scope and scale of the work effort required to conduct the study. For example, the GIANT study which is looking for genetic variations associated with height (Click here to read a previous SoPD post that briefly touches on that study).

Recently, the report of one huge study was published:

Title: Potent α-Synuclein Aggregation Inhibitors, Identified by High-Throughput Screening, Mainly Target the Monomeric State
Authors: Kurnik M, Sahin C, Andersen CB, Lorenzen N, Giehm L, Mohammad-Beigi H, Jessen CM, Pedersen JS, Christiansen G, Petersen SV, Staal R, Krishnamurthy G, Pitts K, Reinhart PH, Mulder FAA, Mente S, Hirst WD, Otzen DE.
Journal: Cell Chem Biol. 2018 Aug 29. pii: S2451-9456(18)30271-X.
PMID: 30197194

In this study, researchers from Arrhus University, Biogen, Amgen, Genentech, Forma Therapeutics, & Alentis Pharma screened almost 750,000 different compounds for their ability to interact with the Parkinsons-associated protein alpha synuclein.

And before we go any further, just take a moment to fully appreciate the size of that number again:

Source: peopleforbikes

That is eye watering stuff! That is a “I need to sit down for a moment and let this sink in” kind of number. That is a “Are there that many compounds in all of the known universe?” number.

After reading the number, I was left wondering what each of the scientists involved in this study must have been thinking when the boss first said “Hey guys, let’s screen half a million compounds…. no, wait, better yet, why stop there. Let’s make it 3/4 of a million compounds

How enthusiastic was the “Yes boss” response, I wonder?

All kidding aside, this is an amazing study (and the actual number of compounds screened was only 746,000).

And the researchers who conducted the study should be congratulated on their achievement, as the results of their study may have a profound impact in the longer-term for the Parkinson’s community – you see, the researchers found 58 compounds that markedly inhibited the aggregation of alpha synuclein, as well as another 100 compounds that actually increased its aggregation. A great deal of research will result from this single, remarkable piece of work.

But of particular interest to us here at the SoPD, was the activity of one of the positive control compounds that the researchers used in some of the tests.

What was the control compound?

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The Science of Constipation

 

It is one of the most frequent non-motor features of Parkinson’s and yet it is one of the least publicly discussed.

The word ‘constipation’ is generally used to describe bowel movements that are infrequent or difficult to pass. The stool is often dry, lumpy and hard, and problematic to expel. Other symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating, and the feeling that one has not completely passed the bowel movement.

In today’s post we look at what can cause constipation, why it may be so common in Parkinson’s, discuss what can be done to alleviate it, and look at clinical trials focused on this issue.

 


Source: Hormonehelp

As many as 1 in 5 people say they have suffered from chronic (long-term) constipation at some point in their lives.

It results in more than 2.5 million hospital and physicians visits per year in the USA.

And Americans spend more than $700 million on treatments for it annually (Source).

More importantly, constipation is considered by many researchers to be a risk factor for developing Parkinson’s, as many people in the affected community claim to have experienced constipation for long periods prior to diagnosis.

Why this is, what is being done to research it, and what can be done about constipation in Parkinson’s is the topic of today’s post. But first, let’s start with the obvious question:

What is constipation?

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TRIMming aggregates

 

Novel methods for treating neurodegenerative conditions are being proposed on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis.

Recently researchers from the University of Cambridge have presented an intriguing new method of removing proteins from inside of cells which involves small proteins called antibodies.

Antibodies are an important part of the immune systems response to infection. But their function usually only applies to objects floating around outside of cells. 

In today’s post, we will look at what antibodies are, explain how this new system works, and discuss some of the issues we face with taking this new technique forward.


A brain cell from a person with Alzheimer’s. The red tangles in the yellow cell body are toxic misfolded “TAU” proteins next to the cell’s green nucleus. Source: NPR

Here at the SoPD, we often talk about the clustering (or aggregation) of proteins.

Densely packed aggregates of a protein are a common feature of many neurodegenerative conditions, including Parkinson’s.

In fact, the aggregation of a protein called alpha synuclein are one of the cardinal features of the Parkinsonian brain.

Lewy_neurites_alpha_synuclein

Aggregated alpha synuclein protein in the Parkinsonian brain (stained in brown). Source: Wikimedia

Researchers have long been devising new ways of trying to reduce the amount of alpha synuclein collecting in the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s.

In most cases, their efforts have focused on utilising the cell’s own waste disposal systems.

How do cells dispose of waste?

There are two major pathways by which the cells in your body degrade and remove rubbish:

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Wanted: EEF2K inhibitors

Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (or NRF2) is a protein in each of your cells that plays a major role in regulating resistance to stress. As a result of this function, NRF2 is also the target of a lot of research focused on neuroprotection.

A group of researchers from the University of British Columbia have recently published interesting findings that point towards to a biological pathway that could help us to better harness the beneficial effects of NRF2 in Parkinson’s.

In today’s post, we will discuss what NRF2 is, what the new research suggests, and how we could potentially make use of this new information.


GettyImages-548553969-56a134395f9b58b7d0bd00df

Rusting iron. Source: Thoughtco

In his book ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard‘, author Alan Bradley wrote:

Oxidation nibbles more slowly – more delicately, like a tortoise – at the world around us, without a flame, we call it rust and we sometimes scarcely notice as it goes about its business consuming everything from hairpins to whole civilizations

And he was right on the money.

Oxidation is the loss of electrons from a molecule, which in turn destabilises that particular molecule. It is a process that is going on all around us – even within us.

Iron rusting is the example that is usually used to explain oxidation. Rust is the oxidation of iron – in the presence of oxygen and water, iron molecules will lose electrons over time. And given enough time, this results in the complete break down of objects made of iron.

The combustion process of fire is another example, albeit a very rapid form of oxidation.

Oxidation is one half of a process called Redox – the other half being reduction (which involves the gaining of electrons).

The redox process. Source: Academic

Here is a video that explains the redox process:

Now it is important to understand, that oxidation also occurs in biology.

Molecules in your body go through the same process of losing electrons and becoming unstable. This chemical reaction leads to the production of what we call free radicals, which can then go on to damage cells.

What is a free radical?

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A tiny dot with an anti-Parkinson’s plot

Graphene is widely being believed to be one of the building blocks of the future. This revolutionary 2D material is being considered for all kinds of applications, including those of a medicinal nature.

This week researchers from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine and Seoul National University have published a report suggesting that graphene may also have applications for Parkinson’s.

The researchers found that exposing the Parkinson’s-associated protein, alpha synuclein, to graphene quantum dots not only prevented the protein from aggregating together into its toxic form, but also destroyed the mature toxic form of it.

A nano-sized silver bullet?

In today’s post, we will look at what graphene quantum dots are, review the new Parkinson’s-related results, and discuss what happens next for this new technology.


Prof Andre Geim and Prof Konstantin Novoselov. Source: Aerogelgraphene

They called them ‘Friday night experiments’.

Each week, two research scientists at the University of Manchester (UK) named Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov held sessions where they would conduct experiments that had little or nothing to do with their actual research.

These activities were simply an exercise in genuine curiosity.

And on one particular Friday in 2004, the two scientists conducted one of the simplest experiments that they had ever attempted – but it was one which would change the world: They took some sticky tape and applied it to a lump of graphite.

What is graphite?

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Prothena: Phase I results published

This week, biotech firm Prothena published the results of their Phase I safety and tolerance clinical trial of their immunotherapy treatment called PRX002 (also known as RG7935).

Immunotherapy is a method of artificially boosting the body’s immune system to better fight a particular disease. 

PRX002 is a treatment that targets a toxic form of a protein called alpha synuclein – which is believed by many to be one of the main villains in Parkinson’s. 

In today’s post, we will discuss what immunotherapy is, review the results of the clinical trial, and consider what immunotherapy could mean for the Parkinson’s community.


Source: uib

I have previously mentioned on this website that any ‘cure for Parkinson’s’ is going to require three components:

  1. A disease halting mechanism
  2. A neuroprotective agent
  3. Some form of cell replacement therapy

This week we got some interesting clinical news regarding the one of these components: A disease halting mechanism.

The Phase I results of a clinical trial being conducted by a company called Prothena suggest that a new immunotherapy approach in people with Parkinson’s is both safe and well tolerated over long periods of time.

The good folks at Prothena Therapeutics. Source: Prothena

What is immunotherapy?

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The Mannitol results

Last week the first results of an ambitious project are being shared with the Parkinson’s community.

Clinicrowd is a “crowd sourcing platform exploring disease treatments that Pharma companies have no interest to investigate or promote”. Their initial focus was Parkinson’s (though they now have additional projects for other medical conditions), and their first experimental treatment for Parkinson’s was the sweetener ‘mannitol’.

The results provide some interesting insights into the properties of mannitol and into crowd sourced projects.

In today’s post, we will discuss what mannitol is, why it is interesting, outline the Clinicrowd project, and review the results of the mannitol study.


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Mannitol. Source: Qualifirst

Without a shadow of doubt, one of the most popular topics searched for on this website is ‘mannitol’.

In 2017, the second most visited page on the site (behind only the main/home page) was a post called “Update – Mannitol and Parkinson’s“. And as if to put an exclamation point on the matter, the fourth most visited page was “Manna from heaven? Mannitol and Parkinson’s

Understand though, that both of these posts were actually written in 2016!

Throughout 2017-18, not a week has gone by without someone contacting me to ask about mannitol and the ‘CliniCrowd‘ project.

Thus, it brings me great pleasure to sit down tonight and write this post.

What is mannitol?

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A vaccine for Parkinson’s – the AFFiRiS update

This week Austrian biotech firm, AFFiRiS AG, made an announcement regarding their experimental immunotherapy/’vaccine’ approach for Parkinson’s.

In their press release, the company provided the results of a long-term Phase I clinical trial testing the tolerability and safety of their treatment AFFITOPE® PD01A.

The treatment was found to be safe and well-tolerated in people with Parkinson’s. But there was one sentence which was particularly intriguing in the press release regarding clinical symptoms.

In today’s post, we will discuss what is meant by ‘immunotherapy’, outline what this particular clinical trial involved, review the results, and explore what this could mean for the Parkinson’s community.


Source: uib

I have previously mentioned on this website that any ‘cure for Parkinson’s’ is going to require three components:

  1. A disease halting mechanism
  2. A neuroprotective agent
  3. Some form of cell replacement therapy

This week we got some interesting clinical news regarding the one of these components: A disease halting mechanism

Clinical trial results from Austria suggest that a new immunotherapy approach in people with Parkinson’s is both safe and well tolerated over long periods of time.

What is immunotherapy?

Continue reading

I’ll have the fish please

We have previously discussed the importance of the right foods for people with Parkinson’s on this blog – Click here for a good example.

Recently, new data from researchers in Sweden points towards the benefits of a specific component of fish in particular.

It is a protein called β-parvalbumin, which has some very interesting properties.

In today’s post, we discuss what beta-parvalbumin is, review the new research findings, and consider how this new information could be applied to Parkinson’s.


A very old jaw bone. Source: Phys

In 2003, researchers found 34 bone fragments belonging to a single individual in a cave near Tianyuan, close to Beijing (China).

But it was not the beginning of a potential murder investigation.

No, no.

This was the start of something far more interesting.

Naming the individual “Tianyuan man”, the researchers have subsequently found that “many present-day Asians and Native Americans” are genetically related to this individual. His bones represented one of the oldest set of modern human remains ever found in the eastern Eurasia region.

Tianyuan caves. Source: Sciencemag

But beyond the enormous family tree, when researchers further explored specific details about his jaw bone (or lower mandible as it is called) they found something else that was very interesting about Tianyuan man:


Title: Stable isotope dietary analysis of the Tianyuan 1 early modern human.
Authors: Hu Y, Shang H, Tong H, Nehlich O, Liu W, Zhao C, Yu J, Wang C, Trinkaus E, Richards MP.
Journal: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jul 7;106(27):10971-4.
PMID: 19581579                     (This research article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the investigators analysed the carbon and nitrogen isotopes found within bone collagen samples taken from the jaw bone of Tianyuan man. In humans, the carbon and nitrogen isotope values indicate the sources of dietary protein over many years of life.

The researchers found that a substantial portion of Tianyuan man’s diet 40,000 years ago came from freshwater fish.

Interesting preamble, but what does this have to do with Parkinson’s?

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