Parkin, a gene implicated in Parkinson’s disease, plays a role in the heart

January 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Listen to the podcast

Listen to the podcast

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that happens in the central nervous system. Cells that produced dopamine in a region of the midbrain start dying of unknown reasons. The loss of dopamine causes problems of muscle function.

Loss-of-function mutations in a gene that makes a protein called Parkin have been suggested to lead to Parkinson’s disease. In neurons, Parkin is critical for removing dysfunctional mitochondria via autophagy. The protein is also expressed in the heart, but its role in that organ is largely unknown.

In a recent Paper of the Week in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, a team led by Åsa Gustafsson at the University of California, San Diego studied hearts from genetically engineered mice missing the Parkin gene. By comparing these mice to wild-type mice, they found that the absence of Parkin did not affect mitochondrial turnover in the heart under normal conditions.

However, during stress conditions, such as a myocardial infarction that simulates a heart attack, the protein was necessary for the heart muscle, or myocardium, to adapt to the stress by helping to remove damaged mitochondria by autophagy. The data suggest that Parkin plays a critical role in repairing damage in cells after a heart attack.

You can hear a podcast discussion about this paper between me and Gustafsson here.

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