UC researchers have received a $431,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate the interaction between two genetic mutations associated with the development of Parkinsonís disease.
Sheila Fleming, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology and neurology and member of the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Center for Parkinsonís Disease and Movement Disorders within the UC Neuroscience Institute, is the principal investigator of the project, which will seek to enhance understanding of how cell death in the brain occurs in Parkinsonís disease. Gary Shull, PhD, a professor of molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology, is the co-investigator.
Parkinsonís disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder in which certain cells in a region of the brain, called the substantia nigra, begin to die. These cells produce a chemical called dopamine that is responsible for transmitting signals within the brain that contribute to the coordination of movement. The death of these cells leaves patients less able to direct or control their movements.
Parkinsonís disease affects one in 100 people over the age of 60, the average age of disease onset. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of patients experience onset by age 40. Recent research indicates that at least 1 million people in the United States, and 6 million worldwide, suffer from Parkinsonís disease.
Fleming and her team plan to generate mice that have mutations in the genes alpha-synuclein and ATP13a2 to determine whether the mice display motor and cognitive impairments similar to those observed in Parkinsonís disease such as impaired balance, slowness of movement and attention and memory impairments. Researchers will also determine whether a combination of both mutations leads to dysfunction and ultimately death of dopamine cells in the substantia nigra.
"We hope to use this model to understand the cellular events that lead to dopamine cell death in the brain and behavioral symptoms in Parkinsonís disease as well as to test potential treatments aimed at stopping or slowing the progression of cell death,Ē says Fleming.
"This type of research study is critical to advance our understanding of how the brain cells die in Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders," says Fredy Revilla, MD, associate professor of neurology and director of the Gardner Center. "The ultimate goal of this and other projects currently conducted at our center is to find neuroprotective treatments and improve the quality of life for people affected by Parkinson's disease."