The Llama-nation of LRRK2

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Antibodies are tiny y-shaped markers used by the immune system to label foreign agents within the body. Once bound to something, antibodies can alert immune cells to come and remove the object. Antibodies can also inhibit the object from doing anything nasty, like infecting or damaging a cell.

Between species, different types of antibodies have been identified and over the last few decades, scientists have re-engineered this natural system for many different purposes, including medicinal therapy. 

Recently, researchers have developed a new type of antibody and used it to better understand the activity of a Parkinson’s-associated protein: LRRK2

In today’s post, we will discuss what antibodies are, explore some of the different types that exist, re-examine what LRRK2 is, and review the recent research report.

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Winter. Source: Sky

Her name is Winter.

And she is a brown coated llama who lives on a research farm near Ghent (Belgium), along with 130 other llamas. You have probably never heard of her, but she has been a critical component in the fight against COVID-19.

Winter (Center, looking left) and friends. Source: Uchicago

Back in 2016, scientists chose a nine-month-old “Winter” as the llama they would inject with spike proteins from SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV viruses, in the hope that she would produce antibodies that could neutralize all coronaviruses.

Note the date – this is why basic research is important to fund.

Jump forward to early 2020, and some of the antibodies that Winter produced back in 2016 were tested on samples of a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID-19). They were found to potently inhibit the virus and Winter’s antibodies appeared in a major research publication:

Title: Structural Basis for Potent Neutralization of Betacoronaviruses by Single-Domain Camelid Antibodies.
Authors: Wrapp D, De Vlieger D, Corbett KS, Torres GM, Wang N, Van Breedam W, Roose K, van Schie L; VIB-CMB COVID-19 Response Team, Hoffmann M, Pöhlmann S, Graham BS, Callewaert N, Schepens B, Saelens X, McLellan JS.
Journal: Cell. 2020 May 28;181(5):1004-1015.e15.
PMID: 32375025                     (This report is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

This is great, but what do llama antibodies have to do with Parkinson’s?

Continue reading “The Llama-nation of LRRK2”

The Llama-nation of Parkinson’s disease

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The clustering of a protein called alpha synuclein is one of the cardinal features of the brain of a person with Parkinson’s disease.

Recently published research has demonstrated that tiny antibodies (called nanobodies) derived from llamas (yes, llamas) are very effective at reducing this clustering of alpha synuclein in cell culture models of Parkinson’s disease. 

In today’s post, we will discuss the science, review the research and consider what it could all mean for Parkinson’s disease.


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Llama. Source: Imagesanimals

Ok, I confess: This post has been partly written purely because I really like llamas. And I’m not ashamed to admit it either.

I mean, look at them! They are fantastic:

llamas-and-haircuts-prince-harry1

Source: Vogue

Very cute. But what does this have to do with Parkinson’s disease?

Indeed. Let’s get down to business.

This post has also been written because llamas have a very interesting biological characteristic that is now being exploited in many areas of medical research, including for Parkinson’s disease.

Continue reading “The Llama-nation of Parkinson’s disease”