One of the characteristic features of Parkinson’s is the loss of dopamine neurons in the brain. One experimental approach that is being explored for treating the condition involves investigating biological pathways involved in the early development of dopamine neurons.
By re-exposing the dopamine neurons to supportive, growth-encouraging proteins that are present during early development (but absent or reduced in adulthood), researchers hope to be able to rejeuvinate these cells and make them healthier.
In a recent post, we discussed one such developmental supportive protein: Glial cell derived neurotrophic factor (Click here to read more about this).
In today’s post, we will look at a different type of developmental protein which is having interesting effects in models of Parkinson’s. That protein is called Sonic Hedgehog.
The humble fly (Drosophila). Source: Ecolab
No one should ever be allowed to say that fly genetists don’t have a sense of humour.
When it comes to the naming of genes, they have had a great deal of fun. A gene is a section of DNA that can be copied into RNA (which may then provide the instructions for making a protein), and each gene has been given a name. Some names are boring – such as leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (or LRRK2… Boring!) – while other names are rather amusing.
For example, there is one fly gene called indy, which stands for I‘m Not Dead Yet. Flies with genetic variation in this gene have longer than average lifespans (Click here to read more about this).
Another amusingly named gene is Cheap Date. Flies with a genetic mutation in this gene are very susceptible to alcohol (Click here to read more about this).
There is also Ken and Barbie – genetic variations in this gene result in a lack of external genitalia (Click here to read more about this). There are lots of great gene names: “lunatic fringe”, “headcase” and “mothers against decapentaplegia (MAD)”. Like I said, fly genetists have a lot of fun.
But one of the most popular gene names in all of biology is a gene called Sonic Hedgehog.
What is Sonic Hedghog?