OPDC develops new method to look for Parkinson's biomarkers


The OPDC aims to understand the earliest events that lead to Parkinson’s.  Recently we have made exciting discoveries about the role of alpha-synuclein oligomers in Parkinson’s in a study of post-mortem brain tissue from people with Parkinson’s and healthy controls. 


During the development of Parkinson’s the protein alpha-synuclein begins to function abnormally and clumps together to form small clusters, known as oligomers.  Alpha-synuclein oligomers are present at the early stages of the disease and are thought to cause damage to brain cells which results in their degeneration.  Large accumulations of alpha-synuclein, called Lewy bodies, are thought to eventually form from the oligomers and are associated with the late stages of Parkinson’s.  However, efforts to understand exactly how alpha-synuclein oligomers cause Parkinson’s have been hindered by the absence of a method for their detection. 



We have developed a technique called the alpha-synuclein proximity ligation assay (AS-PLA), which enables the detection of alpha-synuclein oligomers.  For the first time, we have shown that alpha-synuclein oligomers are found in areas of the brains of Parkinson’s patients that do not yet have Lewy bodies, a late sign of disease.  This suggests that detecting alpha-synuclein oligomers with AS-PLA allows us to detect earlier signs of Parkinson’s in the brain.  Alpha-synuclein oligomers therefore represent a promising biomarker of Parkinson’s and we are currently investigating the association between alpha-synuclein oligomers in other tissues and the early stages of Parkinson’s.

We thank both the Cure Parkinson's Trust and Parkinson's UK for funding this work

To read the manuscript in the journal Brain see Direct visualization of alpha-synuclein oligomers reveals previously undetected pathology in Parkinson's disease brain.