Gene that causes Parkinson’s disease identified

July 29th, 2010 - 7:47 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 29 (IANS) Researchers have found a molecule that causes nerve cell death in the brain, sparking Parkinson’s disease, and hope they can soon stop it in its tracks.
The discovery was a “significant step forward” in the battle against the degenerative disease that affects 120,000 people in Britain alone, and more than six million worldwide, the Telegraph reports.

Parkinson’s is a movement disorder characterised by uncontrollable shaking and loss of muscle coordination. In the brain, it is characterised by a devastating loss of nerve cells that produce dopamine and enable smooth control of the body.

A person with Parkinson’s will only develop symptoms when around 80 percent of these cells are lost, so they may have had the condition for some time before problems surface.

Now researchers have found the molecule responsible for the death of nerve cells and believe they can produce drugs that could block its action.

Using the common fruit fly, researchers showed the gene variant results in impaired activity of chemicals which fine-tune protein production in cells.

Prof Bingwei Lu, Stanford University, California, said: “MicroRNA, whose role in the body has only recently begun to be figured out, has been implicated in cancer, cardiac dysfunction and faulty immune response, according to the journal Nature.”

“But this is the first time it has been identified as a key player in a neurodegenerative disease.” MicroRNA is a single-stranded form of RNA, part of DNA.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition resulting in tremors, difficulty in moving and loss of balance that’s usually diagnosed after the age of 60 - although one in 20 sufferers will be under 40 years.

The new findings published in Nature show the mutation trips up normal activity leading to the overproduction of at least two proteins that can cause brain cells to die.

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