Protein may be key to treating Parkinson's, brain cancer

Posted Jul 16, 2014 by Greta McClain
Researchers have found that a protein present in the brain helps neurons and brain cancer cells avoid cell death, a discovery scientists hope will lead to better treatments for not only brain cancer, but for Parkinson’s Disease as well.
A series of brain activity scans
A series of brain activity scans
Reigh LeBlanc
The research was conducted by the University Of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC) School Of Medicine, and was led by Professor Mohanish Deshmukh. The findings, published in the journal Science Signaling, found that the protein PARC/CUL9, also known simply as PARC, allows both brain neurons and brain cancer cells to override the natural biochemical mechanisms within the body that leads to cell death.
Every cell within the body has a mitochondria. The mitochondria works like our digestive system. It takes in nutrients, breaks those nutrients down and converts them into the energy needed for the cells to function properly. When the mitochondria is damaged or begins to malfunction, it releases a chemical known as cytochrome c, which causes the cell to die. This process is known as apoptosis.
According to a UNC press release, researchers used external stimuli to the damage the cell mitochondria. It was during this process that Vivian Gama, co-author of the study, found that PARC/CUL9 prevented the cells from producing cytochrome c. The revelation has led Deshmukh and Gama to focus on how PARC/CUL9 can be used in Parkinson's and brain cancer patients.
PARC is similar to the protein Parkin found in Parkinson's patients. According to Deshmukh, Parkin targets damaged mitochondria for degradation. Scientists did not know exactly what happened to proteins such as cytochrome c when it was released from the damaged mitochondria. He now believes they have found the answer, telling Science Codex:
"PARC is very similar to Parkin, a protein that's mutated in Parkinson's disease. We think they might work in tandem to protect neurons."
Gamma went on to say::
"Our hypothesis is that in the absence of Parkin, PARC still does the job, as it may allow cells to survive."
If the hypothesis is true, the research can be used to create new drugs to treat Parkinson's Disease.
The research also showed that PARC has just the opposite effect on brain cancer cells, basically protecting the cancer cells from destruction. Deshmukh told Medical Daily,
"We show that brain cancer cells co-opt PARC to bypass apoptosis in the same way that neurons do and for the exact same purpose. The problem is inversed; doctors need to find a way to let the cancer cells die.”
Researchers also noted that when PARC was inhibited, the cancer cells were more vulnerable to stress and damage, meaning they could be more susceptible to drugs aimed at destroying them.
Scientists believe that these findings will lead to additional research which will aid in the development of new drugs for the treatment of both Parkinson's and brain cancer.