Scientists believe they have discovered the secret behind the brain enzyme that is thought to be responsible for Parkinson’s disease. Such a breakthrough is seen as a big step forward in tackling the degenerative nerve condition.
Research into PINK1 started in earnest in 2004, when it was identified as a key consideration in preventing Parkinson’s. Since then, a number of trials have taken place to ascertain its role in the progression of the disease.
Now, researchers from Dundee University have managed to decipher the enzyme’s 3D structure and the way that it works. The breakthrough could be the first step in addressing the symptoms of Parkinson’s, which include rigidity and shaking.
Professor David Dexter, deputy director of research at Parkinson's UK, said: “The PINK1 gene was identified as a key player by researchers back in 2004.
“Drugs that can switch the PINK1/parkin pathway back on may be able to slow, stop or even reverse nerve cell death, not only in people who have these rare inherited forms of the condition, but also those with non-inherited Parkinson’s.
“This research, for the first time, gives us a view of what the PINK1 protein looks like and how changes in the gene can prevent the PINK1 protein working properly.”
Some 127,000 people in the UK are suffering from Parkinson’s disease of one kind or another. In its most common form, the cause is unknown, but worsens over time as the neurological condition progresses.
Armed with knowledge of PINK1, scientists can begin to work on drugs that switch the enzyme back on. This could lead to treatments in the future that slow the progression of Parkinson’s or even stop it entirely, which has never been achieved before.
Past research into PINK1 revealed that its main role is to detect damage to the mitochondria of cells, which act as the energy centre. Then, a protective pathway using two key proteins – ubiquitin and Parkin – is switched on, which reduces damage.
In Parkinson’s sufferers, PINK1 loses its protective function, which leads to the degeneration of the cells in the brain that control movement. Understanding its structure and inner workings could help scientists find a way to turn it back on again.
The latest breakthrough has established things about PINK1 that are not present in other enzymes. For example, it has unique control elements that target ubiquitin and Parkin in a way that was previously unknown.
Professor Daan van Aalten, who co-led the research, said: “There has been great interest in directly targeting PINK1 as a potential therapy but without knowledge on the structure of the enzyme, this posed a major barrier.
“Our work now provides a framework to undertake future studies directed at finding new drug like molecules that can target and activate PINK1.”
Until the findings of this research can be channelled into effective treatment, the elderly community must continue to live with the challenges it presents. Additional assistance is often needed for those with Parkinson’s, as the tremors make it difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks.