Toronto: Researchers have discovered one of the factors behind nerve cell death in Parkinson’s disease, unlocking the potential for new treatment to slow the progression of this fatal neurodegenerative disorder.
The researchers found that cardiolipin — a molecule inside nerve cells — helps ensure that a protein called alpha-synuclein folds properly. Misfolding of this protein leads to protein deposits that are the hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.
“Identifying the crucial role cardiolipin plays in keeping these proteins functional means cardiolipin may represent a new target for development of therapies against Parkinson’s disease,” said Scott Ryan, Professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
“Currently there are no treatments that stop nerve cells from dying,” Ryan added.
These deposits are toxic to nerve cells that control voluntary movement. When too many of these deposits accumulate, nerve cells die, the researchers said.
For the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers used stem cells collected from people with the disease. The team studied how nerve cells try to cope with misfolded alpha-synuclein.
“We thought if we can better understand how cells normally fold alpha-synuclein, we may be able to exploit that process to dissolve these aggregates and slow the spread of the disease,” Ryan said.
The study revealed that, inside cells, alpha-synuclein binds to mitochondria, where cardiolipin resides. Cells use mitochondria to generate energy and drive metabolism.
Normally, cardiolipin in mitochondria pulls synuclein out of toxic protein deposits and refolds it into a non-toxic shape, the researchers added.
The researchers found that, in people with Parkinson’s disease, this process is overwhelmed over time and mitochondria are ultimately destroyed.
“As a result, the cells slowly die. Based on this finding, we now have a better understanding of why nerve cells die in Parkinson’s disease and how we might be able to intervene,” the researchers noted.