Tagged: parkinson disease

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.


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?

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Mdivi-1: the small molecule that could?

Mitochondrial division inhibitor-1 (mdivi-1) is a small molecule drug that is demonstrating very impressive effects in preclinical models of Parkinson’s disease. With further research it could represent a potential future therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease, particularly those with genetic mutations affecting the mitochondria in their cells. 

What are mitochondria?

In this post, we will explain what mitochondria are, how they may be involved in Parkinson’s disease, and we will discuss what the results of new research mean for future therapeutic strategies.


Mitochondria are fascinating.

Utterly. Utterly. Fascinating.

On the most basic level, Mitochondria (mitochondrion, singular; from the Greek words mitos (thread) and chondros (granule)) are just tiny little bean-shaped structures within the cells in our body, and their primary function is to act as the power stations. They supply the bulk of energy that cells require to keep the lights on. This chemical form of energy produced by the mitochondria is called adenosine triphosphate (or ATP). Lots of mitochondria are required in each cell to help keep the cell alive (as is shown in the image below, which is showing just the mitochondria (red) and the nucleus (blue) of several cells).

Lots of mitochondria (red) inside cells (nucleus in blue). Source: Clonetech

That’s the basic stuff – the general definition you will find in most text books on biology.

But let me ask you this:

How on earth did mitochondria come to be inside each cell and playing such a fundamental role?

I don’t know. Are you going to tell me?


Why not?

Because we simply don’t know.

But understand this: Mitochondria are intruders.

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Self monitoring: there’s something in your eye

Self tracking/monitoring has become a popular habit for the general population with the introduction of products like Fitbit and Apple watch.

It is particularly useful for groups like the Parkinson’s community though, who are tired of having just one hour per year of assessments with their neurologist.

In today’s post, we will look at some new tracking/monitoring technologies that are being developed that could have important implications for not only how we assess Parkinson’s disease, but also for how we treat it.

Homo deus. Source: RealClearLife

I have recently finished reading ‘Homo Deus‘ by Yuval Noah Harari – the excellent follow-up to his previous book ‘Sapiens‘ (which is an absolute MUST READ!). The more recent book provides an utterly fascinating explanation of how we have come to be where we will be in the future (if that makes any sense).

In the final few chapters, Harari discusses many of the technologies that are currently under development which will change the world we live in (with a lot of interesting and cautionary sections on artificial intelligence – the machines that will know vastly more about us than we know about ourselves).

Of particular interest in this part of the book was a section on the Google-Novartis smart lens.

What is the Google-Novartis smart lens?

In 2014, a company called Alcon, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Novartis formed a collaboration with the Google offshoot Verily Life Sciences that would focus on developing smart lens.

The initial project is rather ambitious: develop and take to the clinic a glucose-sensing contact lens for people with diabetes. The idea has been particularly championed by Google founder Sergey Brin (a prominent figure within the Parkinson’s community with his significant contributions to Parkinson’s research each year).

People with diabetes have to keep pricking their finger over the course of a day in order to check the levels of insulin in their blood. A less laborious approach would be welcomed by the diabetic world (an estimated 415 million people living with diabetes in the world).

This is what the lens may eventually look like:

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Lrrking in low orbit

Last Monday, a SpaceX rocket lifted off from the Florida peninsular on route to the International Space Station.

On board that craft was an experiment that could have big implications for Parkinson’s disease. It involves a Parkinson’s-associated protein called Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (or LRRK2).

In today’s post, we will discuss why we needed to send this protein into orbit.

The International Space Station. Source: NASA

When you look up at the sky tonight – if you look for long enough – you may well see a bright little object hurtling across the sky (Click here to learn more about how to track the International Space Station). Know that inside that bright little object passing over you there is currently some Parkinson’s disease-related research being conducted.

What is the International Space Station?

The International Space Station (or the ISS) is the largest human-made object that we have ever put into space. It is so big in fact that you can see it with the naked eye from Earth.

(How’s that for exciting viewing?)

The current space station is 73.3 metres (240 feet) long and 44.5 metres (146 feet) wide, weighing approximately 420 tonnes (924,740 lb), and it has been continuously occupied for 16 years and 289 days, making it the longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit. The ISS travels at a speed of 7.67 km/second, maintains an altitude of between 330 and 435 km (205 and 270 mi), and completes 15.54 orbits per day (it has made over 102,000 orbits!).

The size of the the ISS compared to a Boeing Jumbo jet. Source: Reddit

First approved by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, it was not until November 1998 that the first components of the International space station were first launched into orbit. 36 shuttle flights were made to help build the station. The first crew members took up residence on the 2nd November 2000, and the station was completed in 2011. There is always 6 crew members on board – the current team are Expedition 52 – and it has been visited by 220 astronauts, cosmonauts and space tourists from 17 different nations since the project began.

Oh yeah, and if you want to see what it looks like on board the ISS, in 2015 the European Space Agency provided an interactive tour and earlier this year Google Maps added an interactive tour of the ISS.

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DPP-4: Not a Star Wars character


Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (or DPP-4) is an enzyme that breaks down the protein (GLP-1) that stimulates insulin release in your body. 

Inhibitors of DPP-4 are used in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, because they help increase insulin levels in the body.

Recently some Swedish researchers noticed something curious about DPP-4 inhibitors: They appear to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

In today’s post, we will review what DPP-4 inhibitors do and look at how this could be reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease.


Sitagliptin. Source: Diabetesmedicine

Last year an interesting research report about a class of medications that could possibly reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease was published in the journal Movement disorders:


Title: Reduced incidence of Parkinson’s disease after dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors-A nationwide case-control study.
Authors: Svenningsson P, Wirdefeldt K, Yin L, Fang F, Markaki I, Efendic S, Ludvigsson JF.
Journal: Movement Disorders 2016 Jul 19.
PMID: 27431803

In this study, the investigators used the Swedish Patient Register, to find the medical records of 980 people who were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but also had type 2 diabetes. Importantly, all of the subjects had been treated with Type 2 diabetes medication for at least 6 months prior to the date of Parkinson’s being diagnosed.

For comparative sake, they selected 5 controls (non-Parkinsonian) with Type 2 diabetes (n = 4,900) for each of their Parkinsonian+diabetes subjects. They next looked at whether GLP-1R agonists (such as Exenatide), Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (or DPP-4) inhibitors, or any other oral Type 2 diabetic medication can influence the incidence of Parkinson’s disease.

Now, if all things are considered equal, then when looking at each diabetes medication there should be 1 person in the Parkinson’s disease + Type 2 diabetes for every 5 people in the Type 2 diabetes control group taking each medication right? That is because there are almost 1000 people in the first group and 5000 in the second group.

But this is not what the researchers found.

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The next killer APP: LRRK2 inhibitors?


In Silicon valley (California), everyone is always looking for the “next killer app” – the piece of software (or application) that is going to change the world. The revolutionary next step that will solve all of our problems.

The title of today’s post is a play on the words ‘killer app’, but the ‘app’ part doesn’t refer to the word application. Rather it relates to the Alzheimer’s disease-related protein Amyloid Precursor Protein (or APP). Recently new research has been published suggesting that APP is interacting with a Parkinson’s disease-related protein called Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (or LRRK2).

The outcome of that interaction can have negative consequences though.

In today’s post we will discuss what is known about both proteins, what the new research suggests and what it could mean for Parkinson’s disease.


Seattle. Source: Thousandwonders

In the mid 1980’s James Leverenz and Mark Sumi of the University of Washington School of Medicine (Seattle) made a curious observation.

After noting the high number of people with Alzheimer’s disease that often displayed some of the clinical features of Parkinson’s disease, they decided to examined the postmortem brains of 40 people who had passed away with pathologically confirmed Alzheimer’s disease – that is, an analysis of their brains confirmed that they had Alzheimer’s.

What the two researchers found shocked them:


Title: Parkinson’s disease in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Authors: Leverenz J, Sumi SM.
Journal: Arch Neurol. 1986 Jul;43(7):662-4.
PMID: 3729742

Of the 40 Alzheimer’s disease brains that they looked at nearly half of them (18 cases) had either dopamine cell loss or Lewy bodies – the characteristic features of Parkinsonian brain – in a region called the substantia nigra (where the dopamine neurons are located). They next went back and reviewed the clinical records of these cases and found that rigidity, with or without tremor, had been reported in 13 of those patients. According to their analysis 11 of those patients had the pathologic changes that warranted a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

And the most surprising aspect of this research report: Almost all of the follow up studies, conducted by independent investigators found exactly the same thing!

It is now generally agreed by neuropathologists (the folks who analyse sections of brain for a living) that 20% to 50% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease have the characteristic round, cellular inclusions that we call Lewy bodies which are typically associated with Parkinson disease. In fact, in one analysis of 145 Alzheimer’s brains, 88 (that is 60%!) had chemically verified Lewy bodies (Click here to read more about that study).


A lewy body (brown with a black arrow) inside a cell. Source: Cure Dementia

Oh, and if you are wondering whether this is just a one way street, the answer is “No sir, this phenomenon works both ways”: the features of the Alzheimer’s brain (such as the clustering of a protein called beta-amyloid) are also found in many cases of pathologically confirmed Parkinson’s disease (Click here and here to read more about this).

So what are you saying? Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are the same thing???

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