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Scientists shed light on what causes brain cell death in Parkinson's patients
Date:1/7/2011

SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 7, 2011) Just 5 percent of Parkinson's disease cases can be explained by genetic mutation, while the rest have no known cause. But a new discovery by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio may begin to explain why the vast majority of Parkinson's patients develop the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

This week in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers demystified a process that leads to the death of brain cells or neurons in Parkinson's patients. When researchers blocked the process, the neurons survived.

The findings could lead to an effective treatment to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease, rather than simply address symptoms that include tremors, slowed movement, muscle stiffness and impaired balance. Further studies could lead to a diagnostic test that could screen for Parkinson's years before symptoms develop, said Syed Z. Imam, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor at the UT Health Science Center.

Parkinson's disease, which usually is not diagnosed until age 60 or later, affects an estimated half-million people in the United States.

Dr. Imam joined the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the research was conducted. Co-authors are from the Health Science Center's Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies; the South Texas Veterans Health Care System; and the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research in Tbingen, Germany.

The mechanism

After analyzing cells and post-mortem brain tissue from animals and humans, researchers noted that oxidative stress a known culprit in neuron death activated a protein called tyrosine kinase c-Abl in the nigra-striatum area of the brain. Neurons in this part of the brain are particularly vulnerable to Parkinson's injury.

Activation of this protein led to changes in another protein called parkin, which is known to be mutated in hereditary Parkinson's. The alte
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Contact: Will Sansom
sansom@uthscsa.edu
210-567-2579
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Source:Eurekalert

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