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Parkinson gene: Nerve growth factor halts mitochondrial degeneration
Date:1/30/2014

This news release is available in German.

Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease involve the death of thousands of neurons in the brain. Nerve growth factors produced by the body, such as GDNF, promote the survival of the neurons; however, clinical tests with GDNF have not yielded in any clear improvements. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried and their colleagues have now succeeded in demonstrating that GDNF and its receptor Ret also promote the survival of mitochondria, the power plants of the cell. By activating the Ret receptor, the scientists were able to prevent in flies and human cell cultures the degeneration of mitochondria, which is caused by a gene defect related to Parkinson's disease. This important new link could lead to the development of more refined GDNF therapies in the future.

In his "Essay on the Shaking Palsy" of 1817, James Parkinson provided the first description of a disease that today affects almost 280,000 people in Germany. The most conspicuous symptom of Parkinson's disease is a slow tremor, which is usually accompanied by an increasing lack of mobility and movement in the entire body. These symptoms are visible manifestations of a dramatic change that takes place in the brain: the death of large numbers of neurons in the Substantia nigra of the midbrain.

Despite almost 200 years of research into Parkinson's, its causes have not yet been fully explained. It appears to be certain that, in addition to environmental factors, genetic mutations also play a role in the emergence of the disease. A series of genes is now associated with Parkinson's disease. One of these is PINK1, whose mutation causes mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria are a cell's power plants and without them, a cell can
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Contact: Dr. Rüdiger Klein
rklein@neuro.mpg.de
49-898-578-3151
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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