Tremor linked to genetic change in fruit flies

Parkinson's UK funded researchers at the University of York have observed tremors in fruit flies with a genetic mutation linked to Parkinson's.

The finding, published in the journal Nature Parkinson's Disease, highlights a new way to measure motor symptoms, including slowness of movement and tremor, and improve our understanding of their causes.

Genetic type of Parkinson's

Parkinson's is an 'idiopathic' condition. This means that it usually isn't connected to any particular cause. However, for a small minority, the cause can be linked to genetic changes.

A change in the LRRK2 gene known as G2019S is probably the most common genetic variant linked to Parkinson's. In the UK, around 1 in 100 people carry it.

What the researchers did

The team observed how the fruit fly used its proboscis (the tube they use to eat) to reach out and drink a sugary substance. This mimicked the movement humans make when reaching out a hand for a drink - one of the standard tests for Parkinson's.

In flies carrying the faulty LRRK2 gene, the researchers observed that the proboscis reached out more slowly and shook. The discovery could provide a precise way of measuring tremor associated with Parkinson's in fruit flies – giving researchers a new tool to find drugs that could reverse this symptom.

Commenting on the paper, David Dexter, Deputy Research Director at Parkinson's UK, said:

"Modelling the symptoms of Parkinson's can help researchers understand the condition better, but can be difficult to do in animal models such as flies.

"New and improved technologies and methods allow a greater understanding of the causes of Parkinson's, and also serve as a tool for rapid development of new drugs that can protect nerve cells against damage or directly improve movement.

"We hope this new technique will allow researchers to delve deeper into the biology of Parkinson's, opening new doors and accelerating the delivery of new and better treatments"

Getting to grips with genetics

Read more about the genetics of Parkinson's, and what researchers have discovered so far, on our blog.