In a new study, researchers found that a small protein previously linked to cell dysfunction and death can play a critical role in repairing breaks in DNA.
The finding may lead to better treatments for Parkinson’s and other brain diseases.
The research was led by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University.
Parkinson’s disease affects 1.5 million people in the United States alone.
Aggregates of alpha-synuclein, known as Lewy bodies, have long been connected to Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia.
In the study, the team examined the cells of living mice and postmortem brain tissue in humans.
They found reveals that alpha-synuclein performs a crucial function by repairing breaks that occur along the vast strands of DNA in every cell of the body.
Alpha-synuclein’s role in DNA repair may be crucial in preventing cell death.
This function may be lost in brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, leading to the widespread death of neurons.
Lewy bodies are problematic because they pull alpha-synuclein protein out of the nucleus of brain cells.
The discovery marks the first demonstration of the role that alpha-synuclein plays in preventing the death of neurons in brain diseases.
They hope that these findings lead to the development of methods to deliver alpha-synuclein proteins into the nucleus of cells or designing methods to replace its function.
This may help develop new therapies in people with Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders.
This is the first time that scientists have discovered one of the alpha-synuclein functions is DNA repair.
The lead author of the study is Vivek Unni, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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