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Volume 9, Number 3Space holderJanuary 21, 2005

Over-expressing gene in Parkinson's fruit fly model rescues neurons

Over-expressing a particular gene in a fruit fly model for Parkinson's disease rescues dopamine-producing neurons that normally die off because of the disease.

Leo Pallanck, associate professor of genome sciences, and his colleagues are studying in Drosophila the parkin gene, which is involved with Parkinson's. A mutation in the parkin gene can cause the parkin protein to malfunction, but researchers don't understand exactly how that malfunction relates to symptoms of Parkinson's. Replicating the parkin gene mutation in fruit flies causes muscle loss and dopamine neuron death.

Pallanck found that fruit flies with both the parkin gene mutation and a mutated glutathione s-transferase (GST) gene have much worse neuron death and muscle loss. Knocking out the GST gene acts as an enhancer for the symptoms of Parkinson's, the researchers found.

Likewise, over-expressing the normal GST gene prevents the loss of the dopamine neurons, which could protect against the effects of the disease itself. The researchers hope that further study of GST could aid in using that as a target for a preventive or therapeutic treatment for patients with Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's, one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases, is a progressive disorder that affects movement. It occurs when dopamine-producing cells in the brain's basal ganglia begin to malfunction and die. That leads to decreased production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in body movement.

In addition to studying the parkin gene, Pallanck and his colleagues are examining the role of the gene for alpha-synuclein, another protein involved in Parkinson's.

Pallanck will discuss his lab's most recent work on Parkinson's disease in a 2005 Science in Medicine New Investigator Lecture, What Can Fruit Flies Tell Us About Parkinson's Disease?, scheduled for noon on Thursday, Jan. 27, in Room T-625 of the UW Health Sciences Building. The lecture will be simulcast at Harborview Medical Center in the auditorium of the Research and Training Building, as well as at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Building 1, Room 518.

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