Scientists find more clues to Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder affecting nerve cells that produce dopamine, a brain chemical that helps control muscle movement. When neuron death occurs, the result is tremors, muscle rigidity, and slowed gait. Advanced age, chronic neuroinflammation and exposure to toxins are believed to be factors contributing to Parkinson’s. But between 5 and 15 percent of cases arise from inherited gene mutations.

One gene mutation thwarts the creation of the protein “parkin,” the absence of which has been identified as a cause of early-onset Parkinson’s affecting patients before age 40. How the loss of parkin prompts neuron death has been unclear. Now, researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) report that a lack of parkin sharply reduces the level of another protein that normally helps protect neurons from stress that can lead to programmed self-destruction.

More importantly, researchers believe the discovery points to a broad new “neuroprotective” strategy of protein regulation that ultimately could make neurons more resistant to destructive stresses. Findings appear in the journal Molecular and Cell Biology. News release at

Loss of smell a Parkinson’s disease predictor?

UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers are involved in a global effort to define biomarkers to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in advance of motor symptoms such as tremors.

One factor being investigated is a decreased sense of smell. While the majority of people with loss of smell do not develop Parkinson’s, research to date ( indicates that nearly 95 percent of early-stage Parkinson’s patients do exhibit a decreased sense of smell that preceded disease diagnosis by several years.

Validating smell loss as a risk factor of Parkinson’s could enable earlier detection of the disease as well as open new avenues for therapies to slow or stop its progression. With that in mind, UCSD is one of 23 clinical sites seeking individuals to complete a brief online survey ( about their sense of smell.

To participate you must be over the age of 60 and not have Parkinson’s disease. Most respondents will be sent a scratch-and-sniff smell test and brief questionnaire to be completed at home. Some individuals may also be asked to undergo more extensive testing. News release at

‘Switching off’ hypertension

Researchers have designed new compounds that mimic those naturally used by the body to regulate blood pressure. The most promising of which may be key to controlling hypertension by switching off the signaling pathways that lead to the deadly condition.

San Diego Supercomputer Center scientists targeted the hormone catestatin for its therapeutic potential. Catestatin acts as the gatekeeper for the secretion of hormones that are released into the blood during times of physical or emotional stress.

Based on earlier studies of the structure of catestatin, a three-dimensional computer model of important binding centers was created against which a library of 250,000 compounds was screened for molecules that matched this 3D “fingerprint.” Seven compounds that met the requirements were tested in live cells to gauge their effects. This led to one compound being tried on hypertensive mice and it did produce the same anti-hypertensive effect as catestatin.

If further development results in a drug that mimics the action of catestatin, this would allow people to control the hormones that regulate blood pressure. Findings appear in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry. News release at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

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Posted by Staff on Aug 1, 2013. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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