Researchers at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids (Michigan) have identified a “master regulator” gene switch that may protect the brain from neurodegenerative processes associated with Parkinson's. In this 'epigenetics' study, the researchers analysed proteins that are involved in making changes to DNA, which could have major implications for future therapies for Parkinson's. 

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression (how cells read genes) and how non-genetic influences such as the environment we live in, our diet and exercise can affect the state of our DNA (the phenotype) which in turn affects our bodies at a cellular level. These changes can be be passed on to the next generation but do not affect the underlying DNA pattern (the genotype). Epigenetics can explain why - despite sharing the same DNA - identical twins are not completely identical. There is a growing body of research that indicates epigenetic factors having a huge impact on our bodies.

To assess if there are any differences in Parkinson's, they used DNA from brain tissue of people with and without the condition. The results of their analysis indicated that a protein called Tet2, which is involved with managing epigenetic activity, is hyperactive in Parkinson's.

When the researchers reduced Tet2 activity in mice in the lab, they found that this manipulation was neuroprotective. Lowering levels of Tet2 protected against the degeneration of dopamine nerve cells (neurons) in models of Parkinson's.

These new findings have offered new insight into the underlying biology of the condition and have highlighted a new mechanism that is now being further investigated as a potential therapeutic target for Parkinson's.

Read more about the study here.