Researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom have modified chains of amino acids in a way that could prevent the protein malfunctions that cause Parkinson’s disease.
This discovery could potentially lead to a new treatment for the millions of seniors with the neurodegenerative disease. According to a 2017 article in the Journal of Neural Transmission, approximately 1% of adults over 60 have Parkinson’s. All currently available treatments for the disease only treat its symptoms.
In research published earlier this month in the Journal of Molecular Biology, scientists modified a promising amino acid chain, known as a peptide, previously identified from more than 200,000 candidate molecules. Peptide 4554W was the most successful in preventing the proteins from malfunctioning, or “misfolding.”
The accumulation of misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins (neuronal proteins linked genetically to Parkinson’s) causes changes in dopamine signals throughout the body, which leads to Parkinson’s symptoms—most notably tremors. The researchers made two changes to peptide 4554W to create the slightly smaller 4654W(N6A), which was even more successful than the original in preventing the misfolding.
Richard Meade, PhD, the study’s lead author, said in a press release that peptides “are a good option” to prevent alpha-synuclein misfolding because experiments with smaller particles have been unsuccessful.
“They are big enough to prevent the protein from aggregating but small enough to be used as a drug,” Meade said. “Not only will this research lead to the development of new treatments to prevent the disease, but it is also uncovering fundamental mechanisms of the disease itself, furthering our understanding of why the protein misfolds in the first place.”
However, another researcher, Professor Jody Mason, said a usable drug is still likely years away because more modifications will have to be made to the peptide.
“A lot of work still needs to happen, but this molecule has the potential to be a precursor to a drug,” Mason said in the same press release. “Today there are only medicines to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s. We hope to develop a drug that can return people to good health even before symptoms develop.”
The potential treatment could also be used for several other diseases affecting older adults. Parkinson’s is just one of a handful of neurodegenerative diseases, known as synucleinopathies, caused by a buildup of misfolded alpha-synuclein. Others include multiple system atrophy and dementia with Lewy bodies. There are no known disease-modifying treatments for any of these conditions. Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes are other diseases caused by protein misfolding, and this research could eventually impact treatment of those diseases as well.