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Novel drug discovery tool could identify promising new therapies for Parkinson's disease
Date:7/13/2009

lab, designed and executed the cyclic peptide strategy. His procedure involves exposing yeast cells to short snippets of DNA that the cells can absorb and use to make cyclic peptides. Then, he flips the genetic switch that causes the cells to produce toxic levels of alpha-synuclein. If the yeast make cyclic peptides that suppress alpha-synuclein toxicity, they live; if not, they die. This simple assay enables testing millions of cyclic peptides simultaneously in millions of yeast cells. The process is extremely rapid and much less expensive compared to other techniques used to screen large number of chemicals with an eye toward new drugs.

"We are making the yeast do a ton of work for us. They make the compounds and then they tell us which ones are functional," Dr. Kritzer says. Out of a library of 50 million cyclic peptides, only two saved the yeast from alpha-synuclein toxicity.

Dr. Lindquist's team collaborated with other researchers to test these two cyclic peptides in C. elegans, a millimeter-long worm with a small number of dopamine-producing neurons that are easy to examine and count. Those neurons are vulnerable to alpha-synuclein toxicity, but they were less vulnerable and more likely to survive in worms that were genetically modified to make either of the two cyclic peptides. Guy Caldwell, Ph.D., and Kim Caldwell, Ph.D., professors of biology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa developed this C. elegans model, and performed the testing.

The researchers have not yet determined why the cyclic peptides are protective. They found that the cyclic peptides do not affect a system of transport inside cells known as vesicle trafficking which was a surprise, since alpha-synuclein and other proteins that have been implicated in human Parkinson's disease are believed to play a role in vesicle trafficking. However, the researchers observed that the two peptides share a structure that may hold clues to their targets.

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Contact: Daniel Stimson
stimsond@ninds.nih.gov
301-496-5751
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Source:Eurekalert

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