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