A neurodegenerative disorder that is estimated to affect a million people in the United States, Parkinson’s is diagnosed in about 60,000 new patients each year. It results from the death of brain cells that produce dopamine, a molecule that facilitates smooth muscle movements. Destruction of more than 60% of these cells triggers the tremors, shakes and motor irregularities that are symptomatic of Parkinson’s.
CSHL researchers are targeting Parkinson’s disease from several complementary angles. Research groups are focusing on identifying the genetic and molecular pathways underlying Parkinson’s disease as well new modes of gene therapy. Others are detailing the structure of a brain receptor important in Parkinson’s with the goal of developing a rationally designed receptor-blocking drug for the disease. Another line of approach has been to create tools for visualizing the brain’s stem cells and neural progenitors, which are the brain’s store of reserve cells capable of becoming new neurons. These tools are also being adapted to screen for drugs that turn on brain repair mechanisms.
Some recent research highlights:
In 2009, Dr. Hiro Furukawa’s group solved the molecular structure of a subunit of the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor, which mediates excitatory transmission in the brain’s nerve cells. The receptor is an attractive drug target for Parkinson’s treatment because overstimulation of this receptor is thought to be one of the factors that cause the disease.
In 2007, Dr. Grigori Enikolopov and his colleagues discovered a way of tracking neurogenesis – the process that generates new nerve cells – in the brain by identifying a biomarker that can be used to actively dividing neural progenitor cells. This biomarker – a lipid molecule – may have promise in revealing how neurogenesis correlates with the course of disease in Parkinson’s.
Learn more about Parkinson’s-related research at CSHL: