Scientists believe they may have uncovered a new approach to tackling Parkinson's disease (PD).
The condition comes about when a certain cell dies, meaning the chemical dopamine is no longer produced. Dopamine helps signals to be sent among cells, so a lack of it brings about communication problems, which brings about the symptoms of the disease, such as difficulty with movement.
Researchers from Plymouth University set about trying to work out more about why these cells die, as this could pave the way to future treatments and cures.
Dr Kim Tieu and his team examined mitochondria - which maintain cell health - and how mitochondrial fission proteins change their size, shape, number and location.
If a certain protein - known as Drp1 - was blocked, the researchers discovered that it lowered not only cell death but also the reduction of dopamine in models of the neurological condition in mice.
Therefore, if scientists can find a way to inhibit Drp1, a potential course of treatment could be developed.
Dr Tieu said: "Our findings show exciting potential for an effective treatment for PD and pave the way for future in-depth studies in this field.
"It's worth noting that other researchers are also targeting this mitochondrial fission pathway as potential treatments for other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and [motor neurone disease]."
Research communications manager at Parkinson's UK Claire Bale welcomed the study, highlighting that while scientists knew that problems with mitochondria led to cell death, no new treatments had been borne out of this yet.
She called this trial "a promising step" towards hopefully stopping the onset of the disease.
The full findings of this research can be viewed in the journal Nature Communications.
Around 127,000 individuals in the UK have PD, for which there is currently no cure.
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