The researchers in Canada set out to make compounds that could protect the dopamine-producing cells that are lost in Parkinson's.
Compounds that protect brain cells
They produced compounds based on molecules that have potential beneficial effects in Parkinson's – such as nicotine and caffeine.
Using a yeast model of Parkinson's, they found that two of their caffeine-based molecules were able to target the alpha-synuclein protein.
Alpha-synuclein is a protein that naturally occurs in our brain cells. In Parkinson's, alpha-synuclein becomes misshapen and forms sticky clumps that cause problems inside nerve cells, eventually leading to their death.
In this study, the researchers found that their caffeine–like compounds could stop these clumps, called Lewy bodies, forming.
Tackling the underlying causes of Parkinson's
Dr Beckie Port, our Senior Research Communications Officer, comments:
"The role of caffeine in Parkinson's has been the subject of many studies, with research showing there are potential protective effects from caffeine on Parkinson's symptoms.
"This study discovered two compounds with similar properties to caffeine that could prevent the formation of sticky clumps of alpha-synuclein – which are thought to play a central role in the development of Parkinson's.
"Although this research is still in its infancy, using a compound to prevent sticky protein clumps forming could have the potential to tackle the underlying causes of Parkinson's and slow or stop the progression of the condition – something that no drugs can currently do."