UCLA researchers identified a new gene involved in Parkinson’s disease – a finding that may provide a target for a new drug to prevent and even cure the debilitating neurological disorder, it was announced on June 4.
In Parkinson’s disease – the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease – multiple neurons in the brain gradually break down or die, leading to movement impairments, such as tremor, rigidity, slowness in movement and difficulty walking.
Those afflicted with the disease may also experience depression, anxiety, sleeping difficulties and dementia, said Dr. Ming Guo, the study team leader, associate professor of neurology and pharmacology and a practicing neurologist at UCLA.
Guo characterized the new development as “a major advancement in Parkinson’s disease research.”
In the study, the team found that the new gene, called MUL1 – also known as MULAN and MAPL – plays an important role in the pathology of PINK1 and PARKIN, genes that help maintain the regular shape of mitochondria (organelles within cells that produce the molecules that cells use for energy).
The study, performed in fruit flies and mice, showed that providing an extra amount of MUL1 improves damage from mutated PINK/PARKIN, while inhibiting MUL1 in mutant PINK1/PARKIN exacerbates the damage to the mitochondria.
In addition, Guo and her collaborators found that removing MUL1 from mouse neurons results in unhealthy mitochondria and degeneration of the neurons.
The five-year study appears today in eLife, a new, open access scientific journal for biomedical and life research.
“We are very excited about this finding,” Guo said. “There are several implications to this work, including that MUL1 appears to be a very promising drug target and that it may constitute a new pathway regulating the quality of mitochondria.”
About 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year. There is no cure for the progressive and devastating illness.
It is estimated that as many as 1 million Americans live with the disease, which is more than the number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease combined.