A new study published in Nature may change the way researchers look at Parkinson's disease, reports the Boston Globe's Carolyn Johnson. The study, by researchers at Harvard Medical School, suggests that conventional thinking about a protein involved in the disease may be wrong, and could change the way drugs are developed to treat the condition. Alpha-synuclein, a protein found in clumps in the brains of Parkinson's patients, has long been a hallmark of the disease, and researchers have always thought that the healthy form of the protein is a long, unfolded string, Johnson says. The Nature study now says that the healthy protein actually comes packaged as a tetramer "that looks something like four winding, helical-shaped staircases standing in a row" and suggests that drugs developed to fight Parkinson's should focus on keeping the tetramer structure intact, she adds. The researchers say they want to explore possible compounds that might keep the protein stable in its tetramer form and to figure out if there's a way to diagnose Parkinson's by sampling blood and determining the protein's structure.
Aug 15, 2011