Parkinson’s disease is an insidious disorder affecting movement and cognition for over one million Americans. New research has identified a method that stops and even prevents the progression of Parkinson’s in mice and holds out hope for a preventative therapy.
Parkinson’s is defined by a gradual loss of nerve cells of neurons that produce a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is essential for normal function of muscles and other body organs.
Researchers have learned that changes in a gene known as DJ-1 also leads to an accelerated loss of dopaminergic neurons and results in the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms at a young age.
Although people naturally lose dopamine-producing neurons as part of the aging process, Parkinson’s patients experience a rapid loss of these neurons from the onset of the disease, leading to much more drastic deficiencies in dopamine than the average person.
The ability to modify the activity of DJ-1 could change the progress of the disease, said Dr. Nirit Lev, a researcher at Tel Aviv University. Working in collaboration with Profs. Dani Offen and Eldad Melamed, she has now developed a peptide which mimics DJ-1’s normal function, thereby protecting dopamine-producing neurons.
Preserving dopamine-producing neurons can mean the difference between living life as a Parkinson’s patient or aging normally, Lev said.
The peptide can be easily delivered by daily injections or absorbed into the skin through an adhesive patch.
The new peptide is structured from DJ-1 and has been shown to stop neurodegeneration, reducing problems with mobility and leading to greater protection of neurons and higher dopamine levels in the brain.
Lev said that this method, which has been published in a number of journals including the Journal of Neural Transmission, could be developed as a preventative therapy.
In the study, researchers set out to develop a therapy based on the protective effects of DJ-1, using a short peptide based on the healthy version of DJ-1 itself as a vehicle.
“We attached the DJ-1-related peptide to another peptide that would allow it to enter the cells, and be carried to the brain,” said Lev.
In preclinical trials, the treatment was tested on mice utilizing well-established toxic and genetic models for Parkinson’s disease. From both a behavioral and biochemical standpoint, the mice that received the peptide treatment showed remarkable improvement.
Symptoms such as mobility dysfunctions were reduced significantly, and researchers noted the preservation of dopamine-producing neurons and higher dopamine levels in the brain.
Preliminary tests indicate that the peptide is a viable treatment option. Though many peptides have a short life span and degrade quickly, this one does not. Additionally, it provides a safe treatment option because peptides are organic to the body itself.
Lev believes the peptide could fill a gap in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. “Current treatments are lacking because they can only address symptoms — there is nothing that can change or halt the disease,” she said. “Until now, we have lacked tools for neuroprotection.”