July 29 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered how the function of a small protein may lead to a big breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, a new study says.
Alpha-synuclein worked to repair DNA damage in neurons in mice, which may prevent cell death, according to research published Monday in Scientific Reports. Increasing this protein in people with Parkinson's may be able to improve the condition.
"It may be the loss of that function that's killing that cell," Vivek Unni, a researcher at Oregon Health and Science University and study senior author, said in a news release.
While analyzing post-mortem brain tissue and the cells of living mice, the researchers noticed alpha-synuclein multiple double-strand tears where alpha-synuclein was clustered around the cytoplasm.
The researchers hope this study leads to the development of a technique to infuse alpha-synuclein into the nucleus of cells.
About 500,000 people in the United States have Parkinson's disease and 50,000 people develop the condition each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.
"This is the first time that anyone has discovered one of its functions is DNA repair," Unni said. "That's critical for cell survival, and it appears to be a function that's lost in Parkinson's disease."