Scientists have solved a longstanding problem with modeling Parkinson’s disease in animals. Using newfound insights, they improve both cell and animal models for the disease, which can propel research and drug development.

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the appearance of protein clumps within neurons in the brain, called Lewy bodies. Reproducing Lewy bodies in animals in order to model the disease for research and drug screening has proven notoriously difficult, leaving a gap in Parkinson’s research and treatment. Scientists have now shown where the discrepancy between humans and animals lies. Using the knowledge, the scientists have produced cellular and mouse models that reproduce the evolution of Parkinson’s disease more accurately for both fundamental research and drug development. The work is published in PNAS.

In humans, Lewy bodies form when the brain produces twice the normal amount of alpha-synuclein. When mice, which are often used to model human diseases, are used to model Parkinson’s, they are genetically engineered to overproduce it. But human alpha-synuclein does not form fibrils and Lewy bodies when produced in mice.

Mice produce three types of their own synuclein, which are similar to human alpha-synuclein. Because of this, they are referred to as its “homologues”. The researchers found that human alpha-synuclein does not form Lewy bodies in mice because its homologues in the animal prevent it from doing so. This discovery explains why it is so difficult to model Parkinson’s disease in normal mice, which have all of their synuclein homologues. In other words, the key to successfully modeling the disease in mice is to genetically suppress their homologues of human alpha-synuclein.

Working off their genetically engineered mice and neuronal cultures, the team developed and characterized new models for Lewy bodies for the scientific and medical community. Hilal Lashuel expects that the new insights will advance the development of neuronal and in vivo models that reproduce features of Parkinson’s disease, and allow screening for new drugs. “We now have a very well-characterized model that offers a powerful tool for rapid screening of molecular pathways involved in Parkinson’s disease,” he says.

Source: École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne


École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
"Induction of de novo α-Synuclein fibrillization in a neuronal model for Parkinson’s disease"

February 5, 2016