The fruit fly has been used as a study model to detect the destruction of these dopaminergic neurons. This protein is identified in flies, as well as in mice, and is thought to be a new therapeutic target. This article has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Most Parkinsons cases involve an interaction between multiple genetic and environmental risk factors. However, the onset of the disease is a dysfunction of mitochondria in dopaminergic neurons. These small factories within cells are primarily responsible for energy production, but also for activating cells self-destruct mechanisms when damaged.
Emi Nagoshi, a professor in the Department of Genetics and Evolution at the University of Southern California, is using the fruit fly, or Drosophila, to research the mechanisms of dopaminergic neuron degeneration. She is especially interested in theFer2gene, which, according to the human homolog, is a protein that controls the expression of many other genes and may lead to Parkinsons disease through mechanisms that are not yet understood.
This scientific team examined whether a mutation in theFer2gene has specific Parkinsons-like impairments in flies, including a delay in the movement. Moreover, they examined the structure of the mitochondria of dopaminergic neurons, similar to those observed in Parkinsons patients.
The study found that a rise in the amount ofFer2in the cells may have a protective effect on the flies as long as they overproduceFer2, which is confirming the hypothesis.
We have identified the genes regulated byFer2 and these are mostly involved in mitochondrial functions. This key protein therefore appears to play a significant role against the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in flies by controlling not only the mitochondrial structure, but also their functions, according to Federico Miozzo, a researcher at the Department of Genetics and Evolution and the first author of the study.
A new therapeutic target
Biologists studied whether theFer2homolog function in mammals was similar to that seen in the flying. Emi Nagoshi claims that experiments on mice are ongoing to examine whether or not theFer2homolog works in humans.