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Research results question the theory of the development of Parkinson's
British researchers recently published a study that showed that Parkinson's was diagnosed 20 years before the onset of the disease. An international team of scientists has now also gained new knowledge about the neurodegenerative disease. Accordingly, the disease may not develop as it was previously thought.
Incurable neurodegenerative disease
Former heads of state like Theodore Roosevelt, Mao Tse-tung and Leonid Brezhnev, actors like Michael J. Fox and Ottfried Fischer, athletes like the former heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali: the list of well-known Parkinson's patients is long. The neurodegenerative disease is still not curable. But researchers keep gaining new insights into Parkinson's. This also applies to an international team of scientists, who have now been able to prove that the inclusions in the neurons of the brain that are characteristic of Parkinson's do not in most cases consist of protein fibrils. The study raises new questions about the development of Parkinson's.
Six million people worldwide are said to be affected
Parkinson's disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases. Worldwide, more than six million people are said to be affected.
In Germany, the number of Parkinson's patients is estimated at 200,000 to 400,000.
The disease is associated with deficits in movement, such as trembling of the arms and legs, slow movements and muscle stiffness, which occur together with other non-motor symptoms.
The hallmarks of this inevitably worsening disease include neuronal inclusions, so-called Lewy bodies, which accumulate in various areas of the human brain, the University of Basel said in a statement.
For decades, Parkinson's was thought to be caused by the deposition of insoluble fibrils of the alpha-synuclein protein in Lewy bodies.
Totally unexpected discovery
Dutch, German and Swiss researchers are now refuting this common thesis in their current study.
The international research team with the participation of scientists led by Prof. Henning Stahlberg from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel was able to use state-of-the-art electron microscopes to show that instead of the expected alpha-synuclein fibrils, the Lewy bodies mainly contain membrane fragments, lipids and other cellular material.
"Using correlative light and electron microscopy, we looked at the brain tissue of deceased Parkinson's patients and found that the Lewy bodies mainly consist of membrane fragments from mitochondria and other organelles, but have no or only negligible amounts of fibrils," explains Stahlberg.
"The discovery that alpha-synuclein was not in the form of fibrils was completely unexpected for us and the entire research area," said the expert.
The study results were recently published in the journal "Nature Neuroscience".
The cause and mechanism should be questioned
The researchers do not yet know where and in what form the protein alpha-synuclein is hidden between the membrane fragments and how it is used to form the Lewy bodies.
But their work shows that the laboratory model of alpha-synuclein fibrils should be questioned as the cause and mechanism of Parkinson's disease.
"Our discovery suggests that the search for the causes of the disease should be guided more by researching human pathology," says Stahlberg.
“The question of why it has not been possible to better characterize the Lewy bodies for such a long time can probably be answered with the earlier sample preparation and electron microscopy methods. Today's methods allow a much deeper insight into the structures of the human brain, ”said Stahlberg.
"The big question for us now is: How does alpha-synuclein contribute to Lewy bodies if not in the form of fibrils?"
With their work, the scientists raise many new questions regarding the importance of Lewy bodies in the development of Parkinson's.
The elucidation of such cell structures provides important clues as to how one could therapeutically reduce or stop the formation of Lewy bodies and the destruction of cell structures in the brain. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- University of Basel: New content: Neural Parkinson's inclusions are different than expected, (accessed: June 26, 2019), University of Basel
- Specialist magazine "Nature Neuroscience": Lewy pathology in Parkinson's disease consists of crowded organelles and lipid membranes, (accessed: June 26, 2019), specialist magazine "Nature Neuroscience"