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Collaborative Success Stories: Common Cause

elderly man with cane

A University of Missouri-led collaboration has confirmed a possible cause for Parkinson’s disease.

More than one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s, a progressively worsening disease that disrupts movement. Most cases have no known cause, hampering the search for a cure.

Now, MU researcher Zezong Gu and a multi-institutional team of scientists have demonstrated that Parkinson’s might be caused primarily by sustained exposure to environmental toxins, resulting in oxidative stress: cell damage caused by unstable atoms or molecules. The medical community had theorized this might be the case, and recent findings have linked common pesticides and increased incidence of the disease. The group’s work provides compelling evidence that the theory is on target.

The study yielded specific information about how oxidative stress affects parkin, a protein responsible for regulating other proteins. The team first created a new antibody that allowed them to witness parkin malfunctioning, causing damaged proteins to cluster together. They then pinpointed the location of mutations in the parkin and compared it to malfunctioning parkin in animal and human subjects with Parkinson’s disease. The results were a match.

The scientists’ work is an important step in identifying a safe and effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Zezong Gu is an associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in the School of Medicine.

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Related Initiative(s):
One Health/One Medicine