Protein shapes indicate Parkinson’s disease

Biomarkers in blood and other body fluids can be used to diagnose many diseases. Parkinson’s disease is a different case: At this time, there is no biomarker available in the clinic to indicate this neurodegenerative condition.

This gap could be closed by Paola Picotti, ETH Zurich Professor. A study published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular BiologyResearchers present 76 proteins that could be used as biomarkers to detect Parkinson’s disease.

Different protein structure

This study is unique because, although the potential biomarker protein molecules can be found in healthy and sick individuals, they are present in different structures or shapes in each group. The disease is not determined by the presence of specific proteins, but the way they are arranged. Scientists have demonstrated for the first time that analyzing the structures of all proteins within a body fluid can reveal potential biomarkers for disease.

Next, we will test and validate the markers using larger numbers of patients. These candidates are not yet clinically diagnostic. They are a strong indicator of the disease, based on what we have seen. So I’m confident this idea of structural Biomarkers will bear out,” Natalie de Souza (senior scientist in Paola picotti’s lab and one of the study’s co-authors) says.

Measurement of structural changes

Researchers from ETH Zurich examined cerebrospinal fluids of 50 healthy subjects and 50 Parkinson’s sufferers. Dutch clinicians gave them the sample material.

Scientists used a particular method to determine the size of the proteome in order to find biomarkers. The totality of all proteins found in a sample, LiP-MS. This method can detect structural changes in proteins and show where they are located. Conventional proteome measurements only track the amounts and types of proteins but not the structural change.

Because proteins’ structure is closely related to their functions (or dysfunctions), researchers speculated that Parkinson’s sufferers and healthy individuals would have different protein shapes.

This is the first time the researchers have applied the method successfully to a disease.

Sharpening your analysis further

Researchers plan to continue to improve LiP-MS to amplify the biomarker signal, increasing the sensitivity to detect the disease. The scientists also want to test the biomarkers in order to determine if they can detect Parkinson’s and if there are overlaps with other neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. Future research will allow the scientists to test their method for subtypes of Parkinson’s disease, and to make better predictions about the disease’s course.

This isn’t clear yet as to what clinically useful diagnostics it might lead. De Souza believes that future testing strategies could be built on antibodies that distinguish between healthy and sick protein structures. She says that it is possible to make regular use of mass-spectrometers in a clinical setting, but it would be a huge challenge.


Materials Provided by ETH Zurich. Original text by Peter Ruegg Notice: Style and length may be changed.

Show More


Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

Related Articles

Back to top button