CU Scientists Halt Progression of Parkinson's Disease in Mice

(October 2011) Medical school researchers have discovered a drug that stops the progression of Parkinson’s disease in mice, and now they are testing it on humans. Wenbo Zhou, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, and Curt Freed, MD, who heads the division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at the medical school, found that the drug phenylbutyrate turns on a gene that can protect dopamine neurons in Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is caused by dying midbrain dopamine neurons. The gene, called DJ-1, can increase production of antioxidants like glutathione to reduce the debilitating effects of excess oxygen in brain cells. In addition, activating DJ-1 helps cells eliminate abnormal proteins that otherwise accumulate and kill brain cells. Dopamine neurons are particularly susceptible to too much oxygen and abnormal protein deposits.

The researchers put phenylbutyrate in the drinking water of mice genetically programmed to get Parkinson’s disease as they aged. Mice receiving the drug were able to move normally, had no decline in mental function and did not accumulate the protein that causes Parkinson’s. Older animals that did not get the drug saw a steady decline in their ability to move as their brains were damaged by mutant proteins.

Listen here to an interview with Freed on Colorado Public Radio >>

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