Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the accumulation of a protein known as alpha-synuclein in the brain. If too much of it is produced or if it’s not eliminated properly, it then aggregates into small clumps inside the neurons, eventually killing them. Several years ago scientists discovered that these aggregated proteins in the brain had undergone a transformation known as “phosphorylation” — a process in which an enzyme adds an extra chemical element to a protein, thus modifying its properties. It is generally accepted that the disease is aggravated when a specific protein is transformed by an enzyme. Scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have been able to show that, on the contrary, this transformation tends to protect against the progression of the disease. This surprising conclusion could radically change therapeutic approaches that are currently being developed by pharmaceutical companies.
The scientists even discovered that the phosphorylation of the protein has positive effects. On the one hand, it considerably reduces the toxic aggregation of the protein, and on the other, it helps the cell eliminate the protein. Neurobiologist Abid Oueslati is quoted in the August 26th edition of Science Daily as saying “The two phenomena are undoubtedly related, and together could play a role in the reduction of alpha-synuclein toxicity, but we don’t yet understand the impact of both processes at each stage of the disease,”
The research is to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).