A 'switchboard' of molecules that protect against Parkinson's disease discovered

A 'switchboard' of molecules that protect against Parkinson's disease discovered

Previous research had identified that mutations in a gene called PINK1 led to Parkinson's. The PINK1 gene encodes for an important enzyme and, in certain people, its protective effects are lost leading to Parkinson's symptoms due to the degeneration of brain cells controlling movement.

It was believed that PINK1 protects the survival of brain cells by switching multiple targets on or off but the identity of many of these targets was unknown and has been a focus of intense research.

The scientists analyzed tens of thousands of signals using state-of-the-art technology to discover a family of proteins called 'Rabs' that are controlled by PINK1. Rabs are small enzymes that function as molecular switches in cells to turn on or off vital cell processes that regulate cell growth and survival.

The team found that a key role of the PINK1 enzyme is to simultaneously target multiple Rabs and dramatically alter their activity. Their data suggests that an entire 'switchboard' of Rab molecules will play a critical role in protecting brain cells and thus patients from developing Parkinson's disease.

This research opens up new exciting avenues for future research that include studying whether altered levels of the Rabs are associated with the development of Parkinson's. It also suggests that it might be possible to treat Parkinson's by developing drugs that target Rabs.