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Parkinson’s tremors modelled on a small scale – scientists observed a shaking fly

Tremors, involuntary movements and shaking, are probably the most noticeable symptoms of Parkinson‘s. They are significantly reducing people‘s quality of life and can push them into dependence on other people. Scientists up until now were not sure what causes tremors. Now researchers from the University of York managed to recreate Parkinson‘s tremors in fruit flies.

Scientists observed tremors in a fly with a faulty LRRK2 gene. Image credit: Sanjay Acharya via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Faulty LRRK2 gene is one of the main causes of Parkinson’s disease – this is what scientists know from previous studies. However, the exact mechanism of Parkinson’s is unknown. Now scientists managed to insert that faulty LRRK2 gene into some fruit flies. This cause tremor, very reminiscent to that of Parkinson’s. This effectively narrows down the cause of the tremors and eventually could lead to new treatments.

There is a Parkinson’s test, in which patients are asked to reach out for a glass of water. This simple action, so easy for healthy people is challenging for people with Parkinson’s and allows doctors to see the state of the tremors. Scientists decided to use the same kind of test on their fruit fly subject. They observed the fly use its proboscis to reach out and drink a sugary substance. What scientists saw was a slow movement with some noticeable shaking. In other word, the presence of the faulty LRRK2 gene single-handedly caused Parkinson’s tremors. Also, scientists were happy to see these symptoms to be modelled in such detail.

Scientists hope that precise measurement of tremors as well as isolation of the gene can lead to improved therapies that could address Parkinson’s like it was never done before. This, of course, is still decades away, but fruit fly models would be necessary for further achievements. You should think about them as tools. Scientists now have managed to create tools that will be used in further advances. David Dexter, Deputy Research Director at Parkinson’s UK, said: “New and improved technologies and methods not only allow a greater understanding of the causes of Parkinson’s, but they also importantly serve as a tool for the more rapid development of new drugs that can protect nerve cells against damage or directly improve movement”.

Parkinson’s will be cured one day. However, it will not be a sudden Eureka moment. Every step counts and every improved therapy is a welcome by thousands of people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

 

Source: University of York

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