LA JOLLA, Calif., and CAMBRIDGE, Mass., November 27, 2013 A team of researchers has brought new clarity to the picture of how gene-environmental interactions can kill nerve cells that make dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. Their discoveries, described in a paper published online in Cell today, include identification of a molecule that protects neurons from pesticide damage.
"For the first time, we have used human stem cells derived from Parkinson's disease patients to show that a genetic mutation combined with exposure to pesticides creates a 'double hit' scenario, producing free radicals in neurons that disable specific molecular pathways that cause nerve-cell death," said Stuart Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute's Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research and senior author of the study.
Until now, the link between pesticides and Parkinson's disease was based mainly on animal studies and epidemiological research that demonstrated an increased risk of disease among farmers, rural populations, and others exposed to agricultural chemicals.
In the new study, Lipton, along with Rajesh Ambasudhan, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Del E. Webb Center, and Rudolf Jaenisch, M.D., founding member of Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used skin cells from Parkinson's patients that had a mutation in the gene encoding a protein called alpha-synuclein. Alpha-synuclein is the primary protein found in Lewy bodiesprotein clumps that are the pathological hallmark of Parkinson's disease.
Using patient skin cells, the researchers created human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) containing the mutation, and then "corrected" the alpha-synuclein mutation in other cells.
|Contact: Susan Gammon, Ph.D.|
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute