Mayo Clinic researchers have developed a method to reduce the production of alpha-synuclein in the brain. Alpha-synuclein is a protein that is believed to be central to the cause of Parkinson’s disease. All patients with Parkinson’s disease have abnormal accumulations of alpha-synuclein protein in the brain.
The new method involves the delivery of RNA interference compounds directly to selected areas of the brain via injection. The RNA interference compounds silence the gene that produces alpha-synuclein, according to the Mayo researchers at the Jacksonville, Fla. and Rochester, Minn. campuses.
“While our research has not yet been tested on humans, we expect that these findings will lead to an effective treatment for slowing or even halting the progression of Parkinson’s disease,” says Demetrius Maraganore, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist.
Previous studies conducted by Dr. Maraganore and Matthew Farrer, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic neuroscientist, found that variations in the alpha-synuclein gene result in increased protein production and are sufficient to cause Parkinson’s disease in some families, or otherwise increase the risk for Parkinson’s disease across populations worldwide. Drs. Maraganore and Farrer invented a method to treat Parkinson’s disease by reducing alpha-synuclein expression. Mayo Clinic patented and licensed their invention to Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Alnylam is leading the effort to commercialize the Mayo invention using Alnylam RNA interference compounds.
“For this study, we developed a lead compound of small interfering RNAs,” says Heather Melrose, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic neuroscientist and a lead author of this study. “By infusing this into the brains of mice we were able to effectively reduce the production of alpha-synuclein in the brain. The therapy produced gene silencing that lasted up to three weeks after treatment, and the mice exhibited no ill effects. These are desirable characteristics of a drug therapy ultimately intended to treat disease in humans.”
Drs. Maraganore and Farrer describe this research.