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Biological trigger for Parkinson’s disease identified

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A new research project has identified a biological trigger for Parkinson’s disease. The findings may lead to the development of methods for early diagnosis as well as new treatments for the disease that could prevent development of symptoms and progression. Researchers at johns Hopkins University published their findings on April 10 in the journal Cell.

For the study, the researchers used neurons from humans and fruit flies. They identified a protein, known as s15, which triggers a common form of Parkinson’s disease. The protein is facilitated by an enzyme, leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), which then causes neurodegeneration. The authors note that previous studies have reported that mutations in LRRK2 are related to neurodegeneration; therefore, the progression of Parkinson’s disease. LRRK2 had been previously identified to be a protein kinase. This signifies that it is type of enzyme that adds phosphates onto other proteins and either turns proteins on or off or modifies the protein’s activity. Before the present study, however, the proteins that LRRK2 was acting were unknown.

The study suggests that inhibiting s15 and LRRK2 could prevent the loss of dopamine neurons and the onset of Parkinson’s disease. LRRK2 inhibitors are known; however, they have not been tested in patient trials. The researchers note that further studies must be conducted to identify inhibitors of s15.

Parkinson's disease was first described in England in 1817 by Dr. James Parkinson. The disease most often develops after age 50 and is one of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly. Sometimes Parkinson's disease occurs in younger adults; however, it is rarely seen in children. It affects both men and women. In some cases, Parkinson's disease occurs in families. When a young person is affected, it is usually because of a form of the disease that runs in families.

Nerve cells use a brain chemical called dopamine to help control muscle movement. Parkinson's disease occurs when the nerve cells in the brain that make dopamine are slowly destroyed. Without dopamine, the nerve cells in that part of the brain cannot properly send messages. This leads to the loss of muscle function, which worsens over time.