Researchers identify key player in genetic Parkinson’s

A team of researchers funded by Parkinson's UK have shown a protein called Rab10 plays an important role in the loss of brain cells in a genetic type of Parkinson's.

A change in a gene called LRRK2 is probably the most common genetic variant linked to Parkinson’s.

In the UK, around one in 100 people with Parkinson’s carry this version of the gene. Now researchers at the University fo York have identified a protein that links LRRK2 to the loss of brain cells in the condition.

The research, funded by Parkinson’s UK, has been published in G3: Genes, Genomics and Genetics.

An interaction with Rab proteins

Dr Chris Elliot and his team have previously observed that a small protein called Rab10 contributes to LRRK2-induced Parkinson’s symptoms in flies. They have now discovered that, of all the Rab proteins, Rab10 interacts in the strongest way with the LRRK2 protein.

This interaction could be the missing piece of the puzzle that connects LRRK2 with the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells.

The results shine a light on a new avenue of research that, ultimately, could slow or stop Parkinson’s.

Filling in a piece of the puzzle

Dr Beckie Port, Research Manager at Parkinson’s UK, said:

“While only a small minority of Parkinson’s cases are caused by inherited genes, this study shines a light on a new avenue of research that, ultimately, could slow or stop Parkinson’s - something no current treatment can do.

“Changes in the LRRK2 gene increase risk of Parkinson’s, but how they lead to the loss of brain cells has been a mystery, until now. Our researchers have identified that the protein Rab10 may be the reason why some cells die while others are less affected. 

“In many ways, Parkinson’s is like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. By funding studies that help us understand the changes in the brains of people with Parkinson’s, we are adding vital pieces to fill in the gaps. This is the first step towards figuring out a way to stop it.”

Understanding why some cells are lost in Parkinson's

There are still many unanswered questions in Parkinson's research. But this discovery may explain why are some cells lost when other neighbouring cells survive.