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When Protein Breakdown Breaks Down: Bacterial toxin yields signs of Parkinson's

Certain compounds that hinder cells from destroying waste proteins can produce symptoms of Parkinson's disease in rats, researchers report. That finding could lead to a new animal model for studying the brain disorder. It also raises the possibility that environmental exposure to a class of compounds known as proteasome inhibitors explains some cases of Parkinson's in people.

In Parkinson's disease, neurons die in certain brain areas and abnormal proteins form clusters in other neurons there. Tremors, rigidity, sluggish movement, and balance problems mark the progressive ailment.

The majority of Parkinson's cases have no known cause, but some cases have been linked to genetic abnormalities that impair cells' capacity to break down proteins. Barrel-shaped structures known as proteasomes are part of the cellular machinery that normally disposes of molecular trash.

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