I’m doing some intense research on Parkinson’s disease and finding amazing breakthroughs. On Monday, I showed you how melatonin can help stop the progression of the disease. Researchers, including me, have been identifying other pieces of the Parkinson’s puzzle for years. And recently, scientists at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) have found another significant piece of this puzzle, one that they hope will contribute to our understanding of treatment options down the road.
The discovery has to do with chemicals in our body. But let me set this up so it all makes sense. At some point in your life, you’ve probably lived in a city that had a trash pick-up service. It’s hard to beat the convenience of this system. And the system probably worked efficiently because there were different people for each job. The guy who threw the garbage in the back of the truck wasn’t the same guy who had to sort it. That would be exhausting – and probably impossible to stay on top of.
Your cells have a similar system in place. When proteins start to fail, they’re sent to lysosomes, the cell’s garbage sites, where they’re broken down and recycled, if possible. Two different proteins are vital to this process. One protein, called VPS35, salvages the membrane proteins that cells need to function. It also helps with the recycling process. The other protein, Lamp2a, handles the other side of the operation, making sure that proteins that aren’t useful anymore can be broken down completely.
As you might expect, these two proteins need each other. If Lamp2a doesn’t have VPS35, it breaks down and doesn’t function properly – much like a garbage collector might if he suddenly found himself solely responsible for the entire operation! And without Lamp2a or VPS35, trash begins piling up in the cells.
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Our VPS35 levels do naturally decrease as we age. But researchers have found that Parkinson’s patients sometimes have a rare mutation in their VPS35 gene. To investigate this link further, the researchers at MCG developed VPS35-deficient mice. And they began exhibiting Parkinson’s-like symptoms, such as loss of motor control. The researchers confirmed that the lysosomes inside the mice’s dopamine neurons weren’t working properly. More importantly, a protein called alpha-synuclein that’s normally broken down in this trash heap was building up. Alpha-synuclein is a big part of the Lewy body protein clumps that are often found in the brains of Parkinson’s patients.
The researchers found that if they increased Lamp2a expression in the mice’s dopamine neurons, their alpha-synuclein levels went down. This is a promising finding. When this process isn’t working, the dopamine neurons are eventually destroyed, which is common in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. By the time we realize these neurons are gone, it’s often too late, but this research could help scientists figure out a way to stop the process before it begins.
I’m excited to see where this research leads. This could be a very important finding in halting the progression of Parkinson’s. In the meantime, you can take steps to reduce your chances of dealing with this disease by avoiding the harmful chemicals that are known to increase Parkinson’s risk. Choose organic foods and limit your exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and dry cleaning chemicals. And remember to take plenty of melatonin (20-100 mg).
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD