Boosting protein levels guards against Parkinson's

Creating a mouse that churned out twice the normal levels of a protein called Nrf2 protected them from Parkinson's disease, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Even after injecting the mice with a chemical known to trigger Parkinson's, the researchers say the mice were completely immune to the disease, which afflicts some 1.5 million Americans.

This new research follows recent reports that higher levels of Nrf2 can delay ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. And follow-up studies are being conducted to see if higher protein levels can also fight Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease. Nrf2 is produced by brain cells called astrocytes. And the theory is that astrocyte dysfunction may be the root cause of all these diseases.

"It's becoming apparent that astrocyte dysfunction is a major contributing factor to the neurons dying," Jeffrey Johnson, a professor in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Wisconsin who led the study, told the AFP. "If we can make the astrocyte better or stronger, or so that it doesn't become dysfunctional, you can preserve the neurons."

- check out the AFP report