Researchers at King’s College London have identified a new gene linked to nerve function, which could provide a treatment target for ‘switching off’ the gene in people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
The study, published in PNAS, 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 this gene was ‘switched off’ by the research team, nerve function in flies with Parkinson’s disease was restored. By deactivating the HIFalpha gene, 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 study authors.
Cagin, U et al. Mitochondrial retrograde signalling regulates neuronal function. , PNAS October 2015