Scientists have discovered a signalling pathway in cells which is affected by genetic mutations identified in Parkinson's disease, which could provide a target for future therapies.
Parkinson's causes a loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain, which are related to dysfunctional mitochondria and oxidative stress.
The researchers, from the Emory University in the US, found that a mitochondrial protein, PINK1, normally protects cells from stress and promotes cell survival by regulating the production and activity of another protein, TRAP1.
When PINK1 is mutated, however, it disrupts the protective pathway of TRAP1, which in turn damages mitochondria.
Lian Li, research team leader, said: "We now know much more about the effect of PINK1 mutations on the mitochondria and how this novel signalling pathway is disrupted in the development of Parkinson's disease.
"We believe the PINK1 and TRAP1 pathway may be a future target for the therapeutic intervention."
The PINK1 gene has previously been found to present a significant risk factor for the development of the disease.