The scientists at the Parkinson’s UK-funded Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre have discovered new clues as to how Parkinson’s spreads from cell to cell.

Alpha-synuclein is a naturally occurring protein that is believed to play a central role in the spread of Parkinson’s.

The research, published today in Stem Cell Reports, is the first to link the release of this protein with the most common genetic risk factor in Parkinson’s – GBA1.

GBA1 and alpha-synuclein

The team, led by Professor Richard Wade-Martins, studied stem cells and brain cells created from the skin of participants.

They compared cells from two groups – a group with Parkinson’s carrying the GBA1 genetic mutation and a control group without the condition.

These findings offer new ideas on how we could stop the condition in its tracks.

Dr Arthur Roach, Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK

The researchers found that the GBA1 mutation creates problems with how proteins, in particular alpha-synuclein, are processed and recycled in cells.

They found that when someone has a GBA1 mutation, protein recycling does not work properly in the cell. This creates a build-up of alpha-synuclein, which is then released into the brain, contributing to the spread of Parkinson’s.

Preventing the spread of alpha-synuclein

Professor Richard Wade-Martins, Head of Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre, explains:

“Our brain cells work like a complex manufacturing unit, building new proteins to carry out activities and recycling proteins that get damaged.

“We already know that Parkinson’s may spread when alpha-synuclein escapes from affected cells into the brain, where it can then get taken up by other cells.

“Thanks to this study, for the first time we know how the protein is released, giving us new clues on how this spread happens.

“Most importantly, these findings open up new avenues into investigating potential new therapies or treatments that could stop the spread of alpha-synuclein and slow the condition’s progression.”

New ideas to stop Parkinson’s in its tracks

Dr Arthur Roach, Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, which funded the study, said:

“This is a good example of how studying a genetic form of the condition can provide important insights into what is thought to be a fundamental feature of all forms of Parkinson’s.

“These findings offer new ideas on how we could stop the condition in its tracks.