A team of researchers from Imperial College London, the Charing Cross Hospital and University College London have identified a protein which could be used to protect against neuro-degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, motor neurone diseases and the damage caused by strokes.
According to research published today in The Journal of Biological Chemistry, the researchers discovered that the naturally occurring protein, 27-kDa heat shock protein (HSP27) was able to reduce cell death in the brain.
Professor Jacqueline de Belleroche, senior author on the paper, from Imperial College London and the Charing Cross Hospital, comments: “At present, there is no cure for neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but the discovery of the beneficial effects of this protein in the brain may provide us with a way to at least slow down the disease process.”
For the experiment, the researchers used transgenic mice, which had high levels of HSP27 throughout the brain, spinal cord and other tissues. This was found to reduce mortality rate and neuronal cell death in the hippocampus, a part of the brain affected by neurological diseases. Similar results were also obtained when HSP27 was injected directly into the brain.
Professor de Belleroche adds: “Although this is unlikely to provide a cure for neuro-degenerative disorders, it could be vital in slowing their progress. Eventually it may be possible to use a drug to increase levels of HSP27 in the brain which could be given to those suffering from neuro-degenerative diseases.”
Heat shock proteins (HSPs) are a group of proteins present in all cells in all life forms, and are induced when a cell undergoes environmental stresses such as heat, cold and oxygen deprivation.
They are also present in cells under normal conditions, and act like ‘chaperones’ to make sure the cell’s proteins are in the right place and shape at the right time.