Brain disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Amyotropic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and other neurodegenerative brain ailments result from oxidative stress during metabolism.

Researchers working on a mammalian brain have discovered a biomarker that may aid early identification of the disorders before symptoms occur. Scientist believe the early detection of the as-yet incurable diseases may be key in reversing the cellular malfunction.

The findings, a result of research by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, revealed that cellular damage is linked to a natural byproduct of oxidation called nitration.

“We looked at a healthy brain and found nitration of proteins that are implicated in neurodegenerative disease,” said Colette Sacksteder, PNNL scientist and lead author of the study, published in the July issue of the journal Biochemistry (online Wed., June 28). PNNL scientist Wei-Jun Qian was co-lead author.

The results are from the most detailed proteomic analysis of a mammalian brain to date – that is, a survey of nearly 8,000 different, detectable proteins in the mouse brain. The research suggests that many neurodegenerative diseases leave a biochemical calling card, or biomarker, that could be used to predict the earliest stages of brain impairment.

The biomarker is known as nitrotyrosine, made when an amino acid in the brain, tyrosine, is in the presence of an oxidative-stress molecule called peroxynitrate. The biomarker was found on 31 sites along 29 different proteins, half of which had been previously implicated in several of the neurodegenerative diseases.

“Our study certainly suggests that the sensitivity of certain proteins to peroxynitrite is an early contributor to neurodegeneration, but other factors may also be involved,” said Diana Bigelow, PNNL staff scientist and the paper’s corresponding author. “The next step, of explicitly looking at tissues with neurodegenerative disease, will test this hypothesis.”

Source: DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory