For around a decade, scientists researching Parkinson’s disease have been probing a pathway involved in the way brain cells process energy, and now a mystery around the role of a particular protein has been solved. The team has produced an unprecedented “Live action” view that shows how this protein is activated, providing researchers with a blueprint for therapies that help prevent cell death associated with the condition.
Now scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have used cutting-edge cryo-electron microscopy technology to observe the protein in “Exquisite molecular detail” and join together the different pieces of the puzzle.
“However, the differences in these snapshots has in some ways fueled confusion about the protein and its structure.
What we have been able to do is to take a series of snapshots of the protein ourselves and stitch them together to make a ‘live action’ movie that reveals the entire activation process of PINK1. We were then able to reconcile why all these previous structural images were different – they were snapshots taken at different moments in time as this protein was activated to perform its function in the cell.”
Companies are already targeting the PINK1 protein to that end, but “Have been flying a bit blind.” With this new understanding of its structure, the hope is that drugs can be developed to switch on the protein and slow or even stop the progression of the disease.
“One of the critical discoveries we made was that this protein forms a dimer – or pair – that is essential for switching on or activating the protein to perform its function.”
“There are tens of thousands of papers on this protein family, but to visualize how this protein comes together and changes in the process of activation, is really a world-first.”