'Free Radical' Molecules May Help Drive Brain Illnesses

The finding could boost Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease research, experts say

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THURSDAY, May 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers believe they've found a link between the cellular stress caused by free radical molecules and the accumulation of misfolded proteins that may cause neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

A team at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, Calif., found that overproduction of oxidizing free radicals, specifically nitric oxide (NO), causes inhibition of Protein Disulphide Isomerase (PDI) -- a "chaperone" protein that's necessary for proper protein folding in times of cellular stress.

Inhibition of PDI reduces its neuroprotective benefits for nerve cells, the researchers explained in the May 25 issue of Nature.

The researchers said this is the first study documenting a direct link between NO free radicals and protein misfolding, which is believed to be a common pathway in the development of nearly all neurodegenerative diseases. The finding may help lead to the development of new treatments for these diseases.

"Our data demonstrate a previously unrecognized relationship between NO and protein misfolding in degenerative disorders, showing that PDI can be a target of NO in cellular models of Parkinson's disease and human neurodegenerative disease," senior author Dr. Stuart A. Lipton, director of the Del E. Webb Center for Neurosciences and Aging at the Burnham Institute, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about Parkinson's disease.

SOURCE: Burnham Institute, news release, May 24, 2006

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