HomeENGLISH MAGAZINEParkinson's disease: blocking the channel would spare neurons' life

Parkinson’s disease: blocking the channel would spare neurons’ life

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease, and causes motor symptoms such as tremor, bradykinesia, rigidity and postural instability and autonomic dysfunction due to a preferential loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. For 90% of Parkinson’s disease patients, symptoms are idiopathic and it is difficult to understand the relationship between various factors, including those associated with the environment (toxins, heavy metals), and the disease mechanism. However, approximately 10% of patients show the familial incidence of Parkinson’s disease. Therefore understanding the disease mechanism for familial Parkinson’s disease may also link with the understanding of Parkinson’s disease including idiopathic Parkinson’s disease as well as drug development. Standard therapy of the condition is based onto Levo-DOPA administration as monotherapy (almost not employed anymore), but more frequently associated to other dopaminergic agonists. Nevertheless, none of existing drugs is able to prevent the death of neuron in substantia nigra (the specific brain region implicated)

A joint research group centered around Professor Hideyuki Okano and Associate Professor Jun Kohyama, Department of Physiology of the Keio University School of Medicine, together with a research group of Eisai Co., Ltd. has identified a compound that has the potential to be a treatment for Parkinson’s disease by using dopaminergic neurons differentiated from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from patients with familial Parkinson’s disease. Aiming to develop treatments for Parkinson’s disease, this research group utilized neural progenitor cells induced from iPS cells derived from patients with familial Parkinson’s disease and established a differentiation protocol for the stable supply of a large number of dopaminergic neurons. Furthermore, the research group screened an existing drug library as an indicator of susceptibility to stress observed in dopaminergic neurons derived from Parkinson’s disease patients, and identified compounds that inhibit calcium channels. Further detailed analysis conducted by the research group revealed higher expression of T-type calcium channels in dopaminergic neurons derived from PARK2 patients.

It was also found that apoptosis of dopaminergic neurons derived from Parkinson’s disease patients could be reduced by inhibiting calcium influx via T-type calcium channels. From these results, it is suggested that combining disease specific iPS cells and existing drug library has potential for both the development of treatments and clarification of disease pathology. Through the use of iPS cell technologies developed by Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in 2006, research has made great advances even in diseases that were difficult to be investigated by conventional methods. In 2012, the Keio University School of Medicine became the first research facility in Japan to create iPS cells from patients with familial Parkinson’s disease, and was successful in replicating the disease mechanism. Currently research into neurological diseases has become very active throughout the world, and the understanding of diseases and development of new treatments is highly anticipated. In April 2013, the Keio University School of Medicine and Eisai initiated the “Innovative Drug Discovery Project for Refractory Neurological Diseases Using iPS Cell Technologies”.Through this research, dopaminergic neurons which are thought to be damaged in Parkinson’s disease patients are created efficiently and easily using iPS cells derived from Parkinson’s disease patients, and an experimental system for conducting screening for drug discovery was established.

In this research, Keio University School of Medicine’s library of over 1,000 existing drugs was screened to find compounds preventing increased susceptibility to stress in dopaminergic neurons derived from Parkinson’s disease patients. In this research, neural progenitor cells induced from iPS cells established from two familial Parkinson’s disease (PARK2) patients were used to efficiently generate dopaminergic neurons. In patient-derived neurons, reduced neurite length as well as elevated oxidative stress and apoptosis were observed compared to neurons derived from healthy controls. Furthermore, it was revealed that these disease-relevant phenotypes were also observed in dopaminergic neurons derived from isogenic PARK2 null iPS cells obtained by genome editing. In addition, since patient-derived dopaminergic neurons showed high susceptibility to rotenone, a mitochondrial respiratory chain complex I inhibitor, an existing drug library was screened with vulnerability to this drug-induced stress as the target. From phenotypic screening with an existing drug library, several compounds that suppressed stress-induced apoptosis were identified.

Furthermore, it was found that T-type calcium channel antagonists effectively reduced stress-induced apoptosis. Importantly, these compounds demonstrated similar reduction in stress-induced apoptosis in dopaminergic neurons derived from other type of familial Parkinson’s disease (PARK6) patients who possess a genetic abnormality which is different to PARK2. Further detailed analysis conducted by the research group revealed higher expression of T-type calcium channels in dopaminergic neurons derived from PARK2 patients. It was also found that apoptosis of dopaminergic neurons derived from Parkinson’s disease patients could be reduced by inhibiting calcium influx via T-type calcium channels. From these results, using iPS cells derived from patients enabled the establishment of in vitro disease models that reflect human biology, and by further combining with existing drug library, suggested efficacy for drug screening. By promoting the understanding of disease pathology through this method, it is hoped that this will lead to application in the development of a fundamental treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

  • edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochiemistry.

Scientific references

Man JHK et al. J Control Release. 2018 Sep 28; 286:114-24. 

Barker RA et al. Cell Stem Cell. 2017 Nov 2; 21(5):569-573. 

Morizane A et al. Nature Commun. 2017 Aug 30; 8(1):385.

Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
- Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998 (MD Degree in 1998) - Specialista in Biochimica Clinica nel 2002 (Clinical Biochemistry residency in 2002) - Dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006 (Neurobiology PhD in 2006) - Ha soggiornato negli Stati Uniti, Baltimora (MD) come ricercatore alle dipendenze del National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA/NIH) e poi alla Johns Hopkins University, dal 2004 al 2008. - Dal 2009 si occupa di Medicina personalizzata. - Guardia medica presso strutture private dal 2010 - Detentore di due brevetti sulla preparazione di prodotti gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di frumento immunologicamente neutralizzata (owner of patents concerning the production of bakery gluten-free products, starting from regular wheat flour). - Responsabile del reparto Ricerca e Sviluppo per la società CoFood s.r.l. (leader of the R&D for the partnership CoFood s.r.l.) - Autore di un libro riguardante la salute e l'alimentazione, con approfondimenti su come questa condizioni tutti i sistemi corporei. - Autore di articoli su informazione medica e salute sui siti web salutesicilia.com, medicomunicare.it e in lingua inglese sul sito www.medicomunicare.com
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