Researchers at Northwestern University say the diseases have at their root proteins that misfold, aggregate and eventually cause cellular dysfunction and death. The genes and pathways that prevent protein misfolding and toxic aggregation, keeping cells healthy, also identifies small molecules with therapeutic potential that restore health to damaged cells, providing new targets for drug development.
Study leader Richard I. Morimoto said the study was conducted in the transparent roundworm C. elegans, which shares much of the same biology with humans.
Morimoto and his team tested all of the approximately 19,000 genes in C. elegans and they reduced expression of each gene one at a time and looked to see if the gene suppressed protein aggregation in the cell.
The study, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, found 150 genes that did have an effect and conducted a series of tests and zeroed in on nine genes that made all proteins in the cell healthier. The genes had a positive effect on a number of different proteins associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, Morimoto said.