Ann Conkle
Feb 8, 2012

Study of live human neurons reveals Parkinson’s disease origins

Parkinson's disease researchers at the University at Buffalo have discovered how mutations in the parkin gene cause the disease. The UB findings reveal potential new drug targets as well as a screening platform for discovering new treatments that might mimic the protective functions of parkin. As the first study of human neurons affected by parkin, the UB research overcomes a major roadblock in research on Parkinson's disease and neurological diseases in general. The problem has been that human neurons live in a complex network in the brain and thus are off-limits to invasive studies. But studying human neurons is critical in Parkinson's disease, because animal models lack the parkin gene. The current paper is the fruition of the UB team's ability to reverse engineer human neurons from human skin cells taken from four subjects: two with a rare type of Parkinson's disease in which the parkin mutation is the cause of their disease and two healthy subjects who served as controls.