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Protein Seen in Parkinson's May Activate Immune System

Candesartan and an experimental drug both reduce the immune response

WEDNESDAY, May 13, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A protein known to accumulate in Parkinson's disease and other degenerative brain disorders, a-synuclein, could activate the brain's immune defenses, researchers say. Their study was published in the May 12 issue of Science Signaling.

The researchers said candesartan and an experimental drug both reduce the immune response triggered by the protein. But much more research is needed on these findings. "We have made important progress in understanding how a-synuclein sets up the chronic brain inflammation that is a hallmark of these diseases," senior author Kathleen Maguire-Zeiss, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of neuroscience at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., said in a university news release.

The normal role of a-synuclein is unclear, but it is known that the protein can quickly change its structural shape -- "misfold" -- and become toxic. Misfolded a-synuclein can activate cells that provide the main immune defense in the central nervous system.

"The real job of microglia is to keep the brain healthy by getting rid of pathogens as well as cellular debris," Maguire-Zeiss said. "However, in a diseased state microglia can become chronically activated, leading to a continuous onslaught of inflammation which is damaging to the brain."

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