Scientists find gene closely linked to Parkinson's disease

By Park Sae-jin Posted : October 27, 2015, 15:24 Updated : October 27, 2015, 15:24
British researchers said Monday they identified a new gene linked to nerve function, which could hold the key to treating neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease affects about 7 million to 10 million people worldwide and is characterized by progressive loss of motor function, psychiatric symptoms and cognitive impairment.

Current treatments for Parkinson's disease only treat symptoms of the disease rather than its underlying causes, so these new findings in fruit flies could lead to novel preventative treatments, if replicated in humans, the researchers concluded in the study published in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous research suggested that defects in mitochondria, which are tiny "batteries" in cells that provide energy, play an important role in a number of diseases that affect the nervous system, including Parkinson's disease. However, until now the neuronal processes underlying the development of these conditions were unknown.

The new study, conducted by researchers at the King's College London, discovered that damaged mitochondria in fruit flies produce a signal which stops nerve cells from working.

A gene, called HIFalpha, was found to regulate the nerve signals from damaged mitochondria and, when the gene was "switched off" by the research team, nerve function in flies with Parkinson's disease was restored. As a result, the early failure of nerve cells caused by mitochondrial damage was prevented.

An identical effect was observed in flies with Leigh syndrome, a rare neurological disorder caused by a severe mitochondrial defect, which typically arises in the first year of life in humans.

As the HIFalpha gene is also found in humans, this new finding could pave the way for new treatments in the future, according to the researchers.

By Ruchi Singh
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