Scientists have identified a protein that can slow or stop some signs of Parkinson’s disease in mice.

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The team found that the bone morphogenetic proteins 5 and 7 (BMP5/7) can have these effects in a mouse model of the disease.

This research, which appears in the journal Brain, may be the first step toward developing a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

This type of brain disorder typically affects people over the age of 60, and the symptoms worsen with time.

Common symptoms include stiffness, difficulty walking, tremors, and trouble with balance and coordination.

The disease can also affect the ability to speak and lead to mood changes, tiredness, and memory loss.

Parkinson’s Foundation report that about 1 million people in the United States had the disease in 2020, with about 10 million affected globally.

Despite this prevalence, scientists are still unsure why Parkinson’s disease affects some people and not others, and there is currently no cure.

The National Institute on Aging note that some cases of Parkinson’s disease seem to be hereditary. In other words, the disease can emerge in different generations of a family — but for many people with the disease, there appears to be no family history.

Researchers believe that multiple factors may affect a person’s risk, including genetics, exposure to environmental toxins, and age.

Since there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, treatments typically focus on alleviating its symptoms.

Existing treatments can help alleviate some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as stiffness. However, they may work less well, or not work, for others, such as tremors or a loss of coordination.

Though researchers are still unsure why some develop the disease and others do not, they understand what occurs in the brain of a person with Parkinson’s.

The disease causes the neurons in the part of the brain that controls movement to stop working or die. The brain region, therefore, produces less of the chemical dopamine, which helps a person maintain “smooth, purposeful movement,” as the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke observe.

Also, Lewy bodies occur in the brains of some people with Parkinson’s disease. These bodies are clumps primarily made up of misfolded forms of the protein alpha-synuclein.

In their recent study paper, the scientists refer to research suggesting that “neurotrophic factors” — molecules that help neurons survive and thrive — could, in theory, restore the function of neurons that produce dopamine. However, the clinical benefit of these factors had yet to be proven.

The team focused on bone morphogenetic proteins 5 and 7 (BMP5/7). They had previously shown that BMP5/7 has an important role in dopamine-producing neurons in mice.

In the latest study, the scientists wanted to see whether BMP5/7 could protect the neurons of mice against the damaging effects of misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins.

To do this, they injected one group of mice with a viral vector that caused misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins to form in their brains. They used other mice as a control group. The scientists then injected the mice with the BMP5/7 protein.

The researchers found that the BMP5/7 protein had a significant protective effect against the misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins.

According to senior study author Dr. Claude Brodski, of the Israel-based Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, “We found that BMP5/7 treatment can, in a Parkinson’s disease mouse model, efficiently prevent movement impairments caused by the accumulation of alpha-synuclein and reverse the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells.” He continues:

“These findings are very promising, since they suggest that BMP5/7 could slow or stop Parkinson’s disease progression. Currently, we are focusing all our efforts on bringing our discovery closer to clinical application.”

The university’s technology transfer company, BGN Technologies, is currently looking to bring the development to the market.

Dr. Galit Mazooz-Perlmuter, the company’s senior vice president of bio-pharma business development, notes that “There is a vast need for new therapies to treat Parkinson’s disease, especially in advanced stages of the disease.”

“Dr. Brodski’s findings, although still in their early stages, offer a disease-modified drug target that will address this devastating condition. We are now seeking an industry partner for further development of this patent-pending invention.”