A team of scientists from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has discovered that a particular protein, alpha-synuclein, already associated with cellular dysfunction and cell death, plays an important role in DNA repair.
This discovery could prove useful in the context of new therapies to combat diseases that see the death of neurons, such as Parkinson’s disease. For Parkinson’s patients, for example, it may perhaps be possible one day to replace the function of alpha-synuclein or strengthen it.
According to the researchers, alpha-synuclein plays a crucial role in repairing the cracks and breaks in the DNA strands present in the nuclei of each cell. This is a role that can crucially prevent cell death itself, a function that can be lost or that can become ineffective in people with brain diseases such as Parkinson’s.
The main reason for the death of brain cells could be the loss of this function, as specified by Vivek Unni, professor of neurology at OHSU and senior author of the study. The researchers performed experiments on mice. In the latter, they noticed that this protein crowded very quickly where DNA was damaged.
When this protein then clustered as Lewy bodies (aggregates related to Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia), more double-strand breaks occurred in the DNA of mice.
“It is the first time that someone discovers that one of its functions is DNA repair,” declares Unni himself, suggesting that this discovery may be very important with regard to Parkinson’s.