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New Approach to Treating Parkinson's Disease to be Investigated

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Dian Land
(608) 261-1034
dj.land@hosp.wisc.edu

A University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health researcher who studies the genetics of blood has attracted the attention of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The foundation recently awarded Emery Bresnick, professor of pharmacology, a grant to examine the workings of the protein alpha-synuclein, the main culprit in Parkinson’s disease.

The research may lead eventually to new therapies for the treatment of this devastating neurological disorder that affects the actor Michael J. Fox and thousands of others.

With Parkinson’s disease (PD), high levels of alpha-synuclein clump in the brain, resulting in toxicity causing neurons that produce the brain chemical dopamine to die. Then nerves and muscles that control movement and coordination are destroyed.

“Fundamentally, we are looking for ways to lower alpha-synuclein levels to treat this disease,” says Bresnick. “We made a discovery that provides a novel foundation for developing new therapeutic approaches.”

Last summer, Bresnick and his collaborators, Clemens Scherzer of Harvard and Michael Schlossmacher of the University of Ottawa, reported an unexpected link between alpha-synuclein and GATA-2, a switch that activates or inactivates genes usually responsible for the formation of stem cells that become blood.

“Very little was known previously about what turns on alpha-synuclein in brain cells and causes variations in its expression,” says Bresnick. “Understanding how GATA factors work in the brain may provide fundamental insights into the biology of PD.”

Bresnick and his team will test whether GATA-2 is a critical inducer of alpha-synuclein expression in nerve cells relevant to PD. They will also investigate underlying mechanisms of how GATA-2 affects alpha-synuclein expression.

“Defining such mechanisms is expected to reveal potential targets that could modulate alpha-synuclein expression and therefore reduce or eliminate symptoms,” says Bresnick.



Date Published: 12/16/2008

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