The researchers studied the effects of rifampicin in test tube experiments and are currently doing studies with cell cultures and mice to see if the same effects occur in living cells. Although these are just the first steps along the path toward clinical studies in humans, the findings suggest that rifampicin and related compounds might be effective in preventing fibril formation and associated neurological damage in patients with Parkinson's disease, said Anthony Fink, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC.
"Clearly, more work is needed to determine if this would work therapeutically, but if it does it would probably be most useful as a prophylactic therapy used in the early stages of the disease before there is general neurological damage," Fink said.
The research was carried out by a team of scientists in Fink's lab, including postdoctoral researchers Jie Li, Min Zhu, and Sudha Rajamani and research associate Vladimir Uversky. Li is first author of a paper describing their results in the November issue of the journal Chemistry and Biology, which is mailed and published online on November 29.
Aggregation of the protein known as alpha-synuclein into insoluble fibrils is thought to be a critical step in the development of Parkinson's disease, a progressive movement disorder resulting from the death of nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Deposits called Lewy bodies, composed mostly of alpha-synuclein fibrils, appear in affected nerve cells, but the connection between the fibrils and cell death remains controversial, Fink said.