Protecting Neurons From Parkinson’s Disease
Neurodegenerative diseases are a growing problem as our society ages. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are costly to society—not just financially, but in terms of the burden on family and caretakers. To address this challenge, medical researchers are trying to determine the causes of neurodegeneration so they can find treatments and cures. One important tool in this research is the study of the three-dimensional (3D) shape of proteins—the key components that make up cells.
Dr. Kalle Gehring, Canada Research Chair in Structural Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases, is an expert in the structural biology of proteins related to Parkinson’s disease and ARSACS (autosomal recessive spastic ataxia of Charlevoix-Saguenay). He and his research team determined the 3D structure of parkin, a protein that can repair cell damage, but which is mutated in certain genetic forms of Parkinson’s disease. The structure revealed that the parkin is inactive until neuron damage activates it. Gehring and his team discovered how these activation signals change the conformation of parkin and cause it to release its protective function.
Gehring and his team are now leading the development of new tools for studying protein structures to better understand their role in neurodegenerative diseases. Observing and interpreting the conformational changes in proteins will open the door to identifying new drugs and therapies to treat neurodegenerative diseases.