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Protein crucial in preventing Parkinson’s

By destroying bad mitochondria, Parkin protects cells

2:08pm, November 24, 2008

Tossing out the old batteries of brain cells might keep those cells strong, new research suggests.

A key player in this process is a protein called Parkin, which is made by the Park2 gene. Mutations in the gene can knock out production of the protein, resulting in early onset of Parkinson’s, a movement disorder brought on when brain cells that produce dopamine die. But until now, researchers did not know how the protein’s presence worked to prevent cells from being affected by the disease.

Now researchers at the National Institutes of Health report online November 24 in the Journal of Cell Biology that Parkin slates defective mitochondria for destruction while leaving healthy mitochondria untouched. Mitochondria are organelles within plant and animal cells that generate energy.

Removing damaged mitochondria might help cells maintain efficient energy production or prevent the buildup of toxic byproducts that might trigger a cell’s death.

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