Scientists solve structure of crucial protein in Parkinson's

Scientists have solved the structure of a key enzyme which protects the brain against Parkinson’s disease. This could help researchers to develop new drugs against the disease.

Dr Miratul Muquit and Professor Daan van Aalten

Credit: University of Dundee

Dr Miratul Muquit and Professor Daan van Aalten: decade of work rewarded by breakthrough that could lead to new treatments for Parkinson's.

Parkinson’s is a progressive degenerative brain disorder which is currently incurable. Previous research in patients with early-onset Parkinson’s has identified mutations in a gene which encodes for an enzyme called PINK1. This enzyme plays a critical role in protecting brain cells against stress.

In patients with mutations in the PINK1 gene, this protective effect is lost and cells that control movement degrade, leading to the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s.

New insights into how PINK1 protects brain cells

After a decade of work, Wellcome-funded scientists at the University of Dundee have now discovered how the PINK1 enzyme works to protect brain cells against damage by identifying its 3D structure.

This allows researchers to understand how mutations carried by Parkinson’s patients interrupt the function of this protective enzyme. 

New drugs could 'switch on' PINK1

Knowledge of the structure of the enzyme could lead to the development of new drugs. These drugs could be designed to ‘switch on’ PINK1 in patients with the early-onset form of the disease. 

Michael Dunn, Head of Wellcome’s Genetics and Molecular Sciences team, says: "If we understand the structure of this protein, which holds so many clues into what goes wrong in Parkinson’s, it may help us develop novel drugs to protect against this devastating disease. 

"Basic research is fundamental to understanding and treating many diseases and only by working in collaboration can we hope to make breakthroughs like this."

More information

  • The paper is published in eLife.