Researchers at Duke University have recently presented data on a new potential biomarker for Parkinson’s that could be useful in clinical trials targeting the LRRK2 gene in people with Parkinson’s.

Human DNA contains all of our genetic information, with the instructions needed for our bodies to develop and function. DNA is primarily stored in a part of the cell called the nucleus; however, another part of the cell called the mitochondria also have their own sample of DNA, referred to as mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mitochondria are tiny, bean-shaped structures that produce the energy required for cells to survive. Now, researchers from Duke University in the US have been investigating mtDNA and have made an interesting discovery regarding a potential new biomarker, or method of measuring disease progression in Parkinson’s.

There is a well-known association between faulty mitochondria and the loss of dopamine producing nerve cells, or neurons, in Parkinson’s. The researchers found that damage in the mtDNA was more prominent in the cells of people with Parkinson’s, and this mtDNA damage may be detectable before diagnosis in some individuals. This means future use of this biomarker could potentially help identify people at risk of developing Parkinson’s.

In researching the causes of Parkinson’s with a focus on the role of genes, it is known that faults in the LRRK2 gene are associated with a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s. The team also found that cells with higher LRRK2 activity had higher levels of mtDNA damage, suggesting LRRK2 may facilitate this. They also reported that treating cells from people with Parkinson’s with medicines that blocked LRRK2 activity also reduced the levels of mtDNA damage in those cells. With additional research, this discovery could be a useful tool in the current clinical trials for Parkinson’s involving a new class of drugs called LRRK2 inhibitors.

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