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Researchers reverse Parkinson's symptoms in animal models

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Statistics for neurological disorders are grim. More than a million Americans suffer from Parkinson's disease alone--a number that is expected to soar over the next few decades as the population ages. No current therapies alter the fundamental clinical course of the condition.

Now, scientists at Whitehead Institute, in collaboration with colleagues at several research centers, including the University of Missouri's School of Biological Sciences, have identified a key biological pathway that, when obstructed, causes Parkinson's symptoms. Even more importantly, they have figured out how to repair that pathway and restore normal neurological function in certain animal models.

"For the first time we've been able to repair dopaminergic neurons, the specific cells that are damaged in Parkinson's disease," says Whitehead Member and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Susan Lindquist, senior author on the paper that will be published June 22 online in Science.

In 2003, researchers in the Lindquist lab described using yeast cells as "living test tubes" in which they could study Parkinson's. A paper published in Science reported that when a Parkinson's-related protein called alpha-synuclein was over-expressed in these cells, clumps of misshapen proteins gathered near the membrane, and in many cases the cells either became sick or died.

Aaron Gitler and Anil Cashikar, postdoctoral researchers in the Lindquist lab, decided to follow up on these results by asking a simple question: Is it possible to rescue these cells when an over-expression of alpha-synuclein would normally makes them sick?

They began with an array of yeast cells in which each cell over-expressed one particular gene. This array, prepared by scientists at the Harvard Institute of Proteomics, covers the entire yeast genome. All cells were also infected with alpha-synuclein. They reasoned that if they identified genes whose over-expression r
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Contact: David Cameron
newsroom@wi.mit.edu
617-324-0460
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
22-Jun-2006


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