The age-associated changes of PARKIN

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Tiny variations in a region of DNA referred to as “Parkin” are associated with an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s (particularly young onset forms of the conditions). The Parkin DNA provide the instructions for making a protein that is involved with many functions inside cells.

New research indicates that as we age, Parkin protein becomes less available. In fact, by the time we turn 50 years of age, “Parkin is largely insoluble”, meaning that the majority of the protein is no longer able to do its job.

This shift appears to involve oxidation changes.

In today’s post, we will discuss what Parkin and oxidation are, how Parkin might be affected by oxidation, and how this information might be useful to treating Parkin-associated Parkinson’s.

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Me (I wish) before 27. Source: Pinterest

I don’t know about you, but 27 was my peak.

Before my 27th birthday, I could run around all over the place – acting like an idiot, with all the energy in the world. I was invincible and having lots of fun. And yes, some vices might have been involved – I would drink myself blind on a Friday night, wake up fresh the next day and do it all merrily again.

Me before 27. Source: Thefix

But then, my 27th birthday came along and I woke up the next day tired and feeling… fatigued. Weary even. And definitely with less enthusiasm than I had before I passed out the night before. My father called it a “hang-over” (which up until that time I had naively/idiotically thought I was immune to).

Me, before (left) and after 27 (right). Source: Wanna-joke

But I gradually developed this sinking feeling that it was something else.

Something more sinister.

It was as though something had changed. Something inside of me.

And I distinctly remember a moment of realisation, when I asked “Am I getting old???”

My father saw my concern and gave me sage advice (“It’s like I always say, aging ain’t for sissies“), and with that I changed my ways.

Source: DS

Since that moment, I have been fascinated by the biology of aging, particularly in the context of Parkinson’s (age is the main correlate with neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s). So it was with great interest that I read a manuscript in November last year that had been posted on the openly-available preprint database bioRxiv.

What did the manuscript say?

Continue reading “The age-associated changes of PARKIN”

Yo DJ, stop mis-splicing

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RNA – the usable copy of a section of DNA – has regions called introns that need to be removed before the RNA can be used for the production of protein. The process of removing introns is called splicing.

Recently researchers have noticed that a genetic mutation in a Parkinson’s-associated gene – called DJ-1 – affects the splicing of the associated RNA and this has serious consequences on the activity of the DJ-1 protein.

Interestingly, they were able to pharmacologically rescue the effect, and noticed that DJ-1 might not be the only Parkinson’s-associated gene affected by this splicing error.

In today’s post, we will discuss what splicing is, review the new research, and discuss the wider implications for the Parkinson’s community.

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Source: Wikibooks

Today’s post starts off with a definition:

Splice/splʌɪs/; verb;
Meaning: “to combine, interweave”.
Origin: 16th century: probably from Middle Dutchsplissen,
Similar:  braid, plait, entwine, intertwine, interlace, knit
Additional/alternative meanings:
1.  (From the arts) When two pieces of recorded music – with a similar key and tempo – are combined:

2.  (From biology) The process that removes the intervening, non-coding sequences of genes (introns) from pre-mRNA and joins the protein-coding sequences (exons) together in order to enable translation of mRNA into a protein:

Ok, so the first alternative definition about music I understood and the video was helpful, but can you explain the second definition in more detail please?

Continue reading “Yo DJ, stop mis-splicing”

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?

Continue reading “EGCG: Anyone fancy a cuppa?”

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.


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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?

Continue reading “Wanted: EEF2K inhibitors”

A virtual reality for Parkinson’s: Keapstone

parkinsons_virtual_biotech_graphic

In 2017, Parkinson’s UK – the largest charitable funder of Parkinson’s disease research in Europe – took a bold step forward in their efforts to find novel therapies.

In addition to funding a wide range of small and large academic research projects and supporting clinical trials, they have also decided to set up ‘virtual biotech’ companies – providing focused efforts to develop new drugs for Parkinson’s, targeting very specific therapeutic areas.

In today’s post we will look at the science behind their first virtual biotech company: Keapstone.


Virtual_Reality_Oculus_Rift

A virtual world of bioscience. Source: Cast-Pharma

I have previously discussed the fantastic Parkinson’s-related research being conducted at Sheffield University (Click here to read that post). Particularly at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) which was opened in 2010 by Her Majesty The Queen. It is the first European Institute purpose-built and dedicated to basic and clinical research into Motor Neuron Disease as well as other neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

The research being conducted at the SITraN has given rise to multiple lines of research following up interesting drug candidates which are gradually being taken to the clinic for various conditions, including Parkinson’s.

It’s all very impressive.

And apparently I’m not the only one who thought it was impressive.

Continue reading “A virtual reality for Parkinson’s: Keapstone”

Resveratrol’s neglected siblings

 

We have previously discussed the powerful antioxidant Resveratrol, and reviewed the research suggesting that it could be beneficial in the context of Parkinson’s disease (Click here to read that post).

I have subsequently been asked by several readers to provide a critique of the Parkinson’s-associated research focused on Resveratrol’s twin sister, Pterostilbene (pronounced ‘Terra-still-bean’).

But quite frankly, I can’t.

Why? Because there is NO peer-reviewed scientific research on Pterostilbene in models of Parkinson’s disease.

In today’s post we will look at what Pterostilbene is, what is known about it, and why we should seriously consider doing some research on this compound (and its cousin Piceatannol) in the context of Parkinson’s disease.


Blue berries are the best natural source of Pterostilbene. Source: Pennington

So this is likely to be the shortest post in SoPD history.

Why?

Because there is nothing to talk about.

There is simply no Parkinson’s-related research on the topic of today’s post: Pterostilbene. And that is actually a crying shame, because it is a very interesting compound.

What is Pterostilbene?

Like Resveratrol, Pterostilbene is a stilbenoid.

Stilbenoids are a large class of compounds that share the basic chemical structure of C6-C2-C6:

Resveratrol is a good example of a stilbenoid. Source: Wikipedia

Stilbenoids are phytoalexins (think: plant antibiotics) produced naturally by numerous plants. They are small compounds that become active when the plant is under attack by pathogens, such as bacteria or fungi. Thus, their function is generally considered to part of an anti-microbial/anti-bacterial plant defence system for plants.

The most well-known stilbenoid is resveratrol which grabbed the attention of the research community in a 1997 study when it was found to inhibit tumour growth in particular animal models of cancer:

Continue reading “Resveratrol’s neglected siblings”

We need a clinical trial of broccoli. Seriously!

In a recent post, I discussed research looking at foods that can influence the progression of Parkinson’s (see that post here). I am regularly asked about the topic of food and will endeavour to highlight more research along this line in future post.

In accordance with that statement, today we are going to discuss Cruciferous vegetables, and why we need a clinical trial of broccoli.

I’m not kidding.

There is growing research that a key component of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables – called Glucoraphanin – could have beneficial effects on Parkinson’s disease. In today’s post, we will discuss what Glucoraphanin is, look at the research that has been conducted and consider why a clinical trial of broccoli would be a good thing for Parkinson’s disease.


 

Cruciferous vegetables. Source: Diagnosisdiet

Like most kids, when I was young I hated broccoli.

Man, I hated it. With such a passion!

Usually they were boiled or steamed to the point at which they have little or no nutritional value, and they largely became mush upon contact with my fork.

The stuff of my childhood nightmares. Source: Modernpaleo

As I have matured (my wife might debate that statement), my opinion has changed and I have come to appreciate broccoli. Our relationship has definitely improved.

In fact, I have developed a deep appreciation for all cruciferous vegetables.

And yeah, I know what you are going to ask:

What are cruciferous vegetables?

Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables of the Brassicaceae family (also called Cruciferae). They are a family of flowering plants commonly known as the mustards, the crucifers, or simply the cabbage family. They include cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts and similar green leaf vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables. Source: Thetherapyshare

So what have Cruciferous vegetables got to do with Parkinson’s?

Well, it’s not the vegetables as such that are important. Rather, it is a particular chemical that this family of plants share – called Glucoraphanin – that is key.

What is Glucoraphanin?

Continue reading “We need a clinical trial of broccoli. Seriously!”

O’mice an’ men – gang aft agley

This week a group of scientists have published an article which indicates differences between mice and human beings, calling into question the use of these mice in Parkinson’s disease research.

The results could explain way mice do not get Parkinson’s disease, and they may also partly explain why humans do.

In today’s post we will outline the new research, discuss the results, and look at whether Levodopa treatment may (or may not) be a problem.


The humble lab mouse. Source: PBS

Much of our understanding of modern biology is derived from the “lower organisms”.

From yeast to snails (there is a post coming shortly on a snail model of Parkinson’s disease – I kid you not) and from flies to mice, a great deal of what we know about basic biology comes from experimentation on these creatures. So much in fact that many of our current ideas about neurodegenerative diseases result from modelling those conditions in these creatures.

Now say what you like about the ethics and morality of this approach, these organisms have been useful until now. And I say ‘until now’ because an interesting research report was released this week which may call into question much of the knowledge we have from the modelling of Parkinson’s disease is these creatures.

You see, here’s the thing: Flies don’t naturally develop Parkinson’s disease.

Nor do mice. Or snails.

Or yeast for that matter.

So we are forcing a very un-natural state upon the biology of these creatures and then studying the response/effect. Which could be giving us strange results that don’t necessarily apply to human beings. And this may explain our long history of failed clinical trials.

We work with the best tools we have, but it those tools are flawed…

What did the new research report find?

This is the study:


Title: Dopamine oxidation mediates mitochondrial and lysosomal dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease
Authors: Burbulla LF, Song P, Mazzulli JR, Zampese E, Wong YC, Jeon S, Santos DP, Blanz J, Obermaier CD, Strojny C, Savas JN, Kiskinis E, Zhuang X, Krüger R, Surmeier DJ, Krainc D
Journal: Science, 07 Sept 2017 – Early online publication
PMID: 28882997

The researchers who conducted this study began by growing dopamine neurons – a type of cell badly affected by Parkinson’s disease – from induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells.

What are induced pluripotent stem cells?

Continue reading “O’mice an’ men – gang aft agley”

Hey DJ, I-so-sit-rate!

The title of this post probably reads like the mad, drug-fuelled scream of a drunk Saturday night party animal, but the elements of it may be VERY important for a particular kind of Parkinson’s disease.

Mutations in a gene called DJ-1 can cause an early onset form of Parkinson’s disease. The protein of DJ-1 plays an important role in how cells handle oxidative stress – or the increase in damaging free radicals (explained below).

This week researchers announced that they have found an interesting new therapeutic target for people with DJ-1 associated Parkinson’s disease: A chemical called Isocitrate.

In this post, we will discuss what DJ-1 is involved with Parkinson’s disease, how isocitrate helps the situation, and what the results of new research mean for future therapeutic strategies.


original-26772-1364707371-8

Source: Listchallenge

In 2017, we are not only observing the 200 year anniversary of the first description of Parkinson’s disease (by one Mr James Parkinson), but also the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the first genetic variation associated with the condition (Click here to read more about that). Our understanding of the genetics of Parkinson’s disease since 1997, has revolutionised the way we look at Parkinson’s disease and opened new doors that have aided us in our understanding.

During the last 20 years, we have identified numerous sections of DNA (these regions are called genes) where small errors in the genetic coding (mutations or variants) can result in an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. As the graph below indicates, mutations in some of these genes are very rare, but infer a very high risk, while others are quite common but have a low risk of Parkinson’s disease.

The genetics of PD. Source: Journal of Parkinson’s disease

Some of the genetic mutation need to be provided by both the parents for Parkinson’s to develop (an ‘autosomal recessive‘ mutation – the yellow circles in the graph above); while in other cases the genetic variant needs only to be provided by one of the parents (an ‘autosomal dominant’ mutation – the blue circles). Many of the genetic mutations are very common and simply considered a region of increased risk (green circles).

Importantly, all of these genes provide the instructions for making a protein – which are the functional parts in a cell. And each of these proteins have specific roles in biological processes. These functions tell us a little bit about how Parkinson’s disease may be working. Each of them is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that we are trying to finish. As you can see in the image below, many of the genes mentioned in the graph above give rise to proteins that are involved in different parts of the process of autophagy – or the waste disposal system of the cell. You may notice that some proteins, like SCNA (otherwise known as alpha synuclein), are involved in multiple steps in this process.

The process of autophagy. Source: Nature

In today’s post we are going to look at new research regarding just one of these genes/proteins. It is called DJ-1, also known as Parkinson disease protein 7 (or PARK7).

What is DJ-1?

Continue reading “Hey DJ, I-so-sit-rate!”

Glutathione – Getting the k’NAC’k of Parkinson’s disease

NAC

The image above presents a ‘before treatment’ (left) and ‘after treatment’ (right) brain scan image from a recent research report of a clinical study that looked at the use of Acetylcysteine (also known as N-acetylcysteine or simply NAC) in Parkinson’s disease.

DaTscan brain imaging technique allows us to look at the level of dopamine processing in an individual’s brain. Red areas representing a lot; blue areas – not so much. The image above represents a rather remarkable result and it certainly grabbed our attention here at the SoPD HQ (I have never seen anything like it!).

In today’s post, we will review the science behind this NAC and discuss what is happening with ongoing clinical trials.


shutterstock_brains

Source: The Register

Let me ask you a personal question:

Have you ever overdosed on Paracetamol?

Regardless of your answer to that question, one of the main treatments for Paracetamol overdose is administration of a drug called ‘Acetylcysteine’.

Why are you telling me this?

Because acetylcysteine is currently being assessed as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Oh I see. Tell me more. What is acetylcysteine?

Acetylcysteine-2D-skeletalAcetylcysteine. Source: Wikimedia

Acetylcysteine (N-acetylcysteine or NAC – commercially named Mucomyst) is a prodrug – that is a compound that undergoes a transformation when ingested by the body and then begins exhibiting pharmacological effects. Acetylcysteine serves as a prodrug to a protein called L-cysteine, and – just as L-dopa is an intermediate in the production of dopamine – L-cysteine is an intermediate in the production of another protein called glutathione.

Take home message: Acetylcysteine allows for increased production of Glutathione.

What is glutathione?

Glutathione-from-xtal-3D-balls

Glutathione. Source: Wikipedia

Glutathione (pronounced “gloota-thigh-own”) is a tripeptide (a string of three amino acids connected by peptide bonds) containing the amino acids glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine. It is produced naturally in nearly all cells. In the brain, glutathione is concentrated in the helper cells (called astrocytes) and also in the branches of neurons, but not in the actual cell body of the neuron.

It functions as a potent antioxidant.

Continue reading “Glutathione – Getting the k’NAC’k of Parkinson’s disease”