Faulty energy production in brain cells leads to disorders ranging from Parkinson's to intellectual disability

May 17, 2013

Neuroscientist Patrik Verstreken of VIB (Flanders Institute for Biotechnology) and KU Leuven has shown for the first time that dysfunctional mitochondria in brain cells can lead to learning disabilities. The link between dysfunctional mitochondria and Parkinson's disease is known, but this new research shows that it is also present in other brain disorders.

Patrik Verstreken (VIB / KU Leuven): "This discovery shows that energy production in is the basis of various disorders. We hope that a better understanding of the mechanisms used by the cell to maintain optimum energy levels will lead in the long term to medical applications that prevent or cure these diseases."

Dysfunctional mitochondria toxic for the brain cell

Well-functioning – the that generate energy in cells – are essential for a healthy brain. They provide the energy needed for communication between brain cells, which is crucial for transmitting and signals and thus for optimal functioning of the body. Earlier research has shown that Parkinson's disease is often paired with dysfunctional mitochondria. Moreover, dysfunctional mitochondria are not efficiently discarded from the cell, which complicates the operation of other healthy mitochondria and leads to insufficient energy production in the cell. They can be compared to a faulty engine that emits .

Quality control by the brain cell

The Leuven-based VIB researchers Dominik Haddad, Vanessa Morais and Patrik Verstreken have unraveled the mechanism by which brain cells trigger the destruction of dysfunctional mitochondria. Once the mechanism is triggered, communication between brain cells is reestablished. The researchers were surprised to find that this mechanism is not only defective in Parkinson's disease, but also in specific cases of . These results indicate the wider importance of mitochondria for optimal functioning of our brains. Haddad, Morais and Verstreken hope that their insights eventually contribute to the prevention of various brain disorders.

Brain disorders in Europe

1 in 3 Europeans will suffer from a brain disorder during his or her lifetime. All of us know people with dementia, schizophrenia, intellectual disability or another brain condition. Each of these diseases penetrates to a person's core and have a huge impact on the patient and his or her family. They also carry an economic impact: €800 billion is spent each year in Europe to cover brain disorder-related health needs.

Bart De Strooper (VIB/KU Leuven): "The brain is decisive in shaping who we are, but from a scientific standpoint, it is uncharted territory. This research constitutes an important piece of the complex puzzle. Brain research is vital, especially because weigh so heavily on patients, their families and society. I am delighted that May 2013 has been designated the European Month of the Brain."

Explore further: Vitamin K2: New hope for Parkinson's patients?

More information: Haddad et al. Mutations in the Intellectual Disability Gene Ube2a Cause Neuronal Dysfunction and Impair Parkin-Dependent Mitophagy, Molecular Cell, 2013.

Related Stories

Vitamin K2: New hope for Parkinson's patients?

May 11, 2012
Neuroscientist Patrik Verstreken, associated with VIB and KU Leuven, succeeded in undoing the effect of one of the genetic defects that leads to Parkinson's using vitamin K2. His discovery gives hope to Parkinson's patients. ...

Mutations in VCP gene implicated in a number of neurodegenerative diseases

March 14, 2013
New research, published in Neuron, gives insight into how single mutations in the VCP gene cause a range of neurological conditions including a form of dementia called Inclusion Body Myopathy, Paget's Disease of the Bone ...

Missing link in Parkinson's disease found

April 25, 2013
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have described a missing link in understanding how damage to the body's cellular power plants leads to Parkinson's disease and, perhaps surprisingly, to ...

New light shed on early stage Alzheimer's disease

April 22, 2013
The disrupted metabolism of sugar, fat and calcium is part of the process that causes the death of neurons in Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have now shown, for the first time, how important ...

BRAIN initiative seeks tools to understand human thought, behavior, consciousness

April 24, 2013
The newly proposed scientific project to understand the most complicated 3 pounds of material in the world—the human brain—is the topic of an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine ...

Recommended for you

Changes in diet may improve life expectancy in Parkinson's patients

November 24, 2017
New research from the University of Aberdeen shows that weight loss in people with Parkinson's disease leads to decreased life expectancy, increased risk of dementia and more dependency on care.

Good cells gone bad: Scientists discover PINK-SNO

November 21, 2017
A new study from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is the first to show precisely how a process in nerve cells called the S-nitrosylation (SNO) reaction—which can be caused by aging, pesticides and pollution—may contribute ...

Genetic defects in the cell's 'waste disposal system' linked to Parkinson's disease

November 14, 2017
An international study has shed new light on the genetic factors associated with Parkinson's disease, pointing at a group of lysosomal storage disorder genes as potential major contributors to the onset and progression of ...

Parkinson's disease: A looming pandemic

November 13, 2017
New research shows that the number of people with Parkinson's disease will soon grow to pandemic proportions. In a commentary appearing today in the journal JAMA Neurology, University of Rochester Medical Center neurologist ...

Focused ultrasound shows promise for treating Parkinson's tremor

October 30, 2017
An initial test to determine if a scalpel-free form of brain surgery can reduce tremor caused by Parkinson's disease has produced encouraging results. Further research is warranted, the researchers conclude in a paper published ...

Novel technique explains herbicide's link to Parkinson's disease

October 23, 2017
Northwestern Medicine scientists have used an innovative gene editing technique to identify the genes that may lead to Parkinson's disease after exposure to paraquat, a commonly-used herbicide.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.