American scientists have identified a mutated gene which destroys dopamine and can cause Parkinson's disease.
It has long been known that a lack of the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a role in Parkinson's, and that a mutated version of the protein parkin causes an inherited version of the disease.
And now, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have used a study on fruit flies to explore how dopamine is killed.
"We put the mutant parkin in all different kinds of tissues and in different kinds of neurons, and it was toxic only to the ones that used dopamine," said George Jackson, UCLA's associate professor of neurology and senior scientist at the university's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour.
Using the genetic Parkinson's model, researchers will now be able to carry out tests in order to find the novel pathways which determine how proteins interact and control dopamine levels.
"Since a lot of those pathways regulating cell survival and death are conserved by evolution all the way from flies to humans," Dr Jackson added. "If we find those genes in the fly, they may represent new therapeutic targets for Parkinson's disease in humans."
The study appears in this week's Journal of Neuroscience.