Death in the fold – new light on Parkinson’s Disease

Protein misfolding and clump formation are common features of many diseases of the brain, including Parkinson’s Disease. Understanding what causes protein misfolding will help us in finding methods for early detection and treatment.

Parkinson’s disease, the second most common disorder of the brain, is characterized by dying of brain cells in areas that control movement. Cell death is associated with the presence of misfolded α-synuclein, a protein which can spread from cell to cell.

The main cause of the disease is still unknown but has been linked to a combination of factors including age and various genetic and environmental factors.

Parkinson’s Disease is known primarily as a motor disorder with symptoms like shaking and slowness of movement. Other symptoms include forgetfulness, sleeplessness, constipation, and loss of the sense of smell. These symptoms may appear long before the disease is detected. However, clinical diagnosis often occurs very late, by which time as many as 80% of brain cells may have died, making it hard to treat the disease and inhibit its progression.

The exact mechanism leading to protein misfolding and clumping is not well understood. As part of our study, therefore, we seek to gain a clear insight into this mechanism. This will enhance understanding of the disease, facilitate its early detection and improve its management, thus improving the quality of life of those living with Parkinson’s Disease.

Written by: Dr Thabisile Mpofana, DRILL Fellow; Neuroscientist, developmental lecturer in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences at UKZN.


Mpofana et al., 2014

Mpofana et al., 2016

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