Year 2

Public Summary of Scientific Progress

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is currently the most common neurodegenerative movement disorder affecting approximately 1-2% of the US population. The disease is caused by a selective loss of dopamine-producing neurons located in a specific region of the brain. This loss leads to significant motor function impairment and age-dependent tremors. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for PD, however a synthetic dopamine treatment (L-DOPA), temporarily alleviates symptoms.

Genetic studies have identified that mutations (changes) in multiple genes cause familial PD. Although the familial form of PD only affects a small portion of PD cases, uncovering the function of these genes in PD-affected dopamine-secretion neurons may provide insight into the mechanisms that lead to the majority of PD cases.

One of the best strategies to study PD mechanisms is to generate experimental models that mimic the initiation and progression of PD. A number of cellular and animal models have been developed for PD research. However, a model, which closely resembles the human degeneration process of PD, is currently not available because human neurons are unable to continuously propagate (grow) in culture. Human stem cells provide an opportunity to fulfill this task because these cells can grow and be programmed to generate dopamine nerve cells (the neurons under assault in PD patients).

In this study, we propose to create stem cell lines that possess PD-associated mutations in two causative genes, PINK1 and parkin, using either rejected early stage embryos or cultured patient fibroblasts. These cell lines will in effect, represent a model of human PD degeneration of dopaminergic neurons. Our working hypothesis is that PD-associated abnormal parkin or PINK1 genes cause degeneration of stem cell-derived dopaminergic neurons, and dopaminergic neurons in vivo via the same mechanism. We will fulfill three tasks in this study; 1/ To generate the PD-stem cell (PD-SCs) line which harbor abnormal or mutant parkin or PINK1 genes; 2/ To determine the whether the PD-SCs cell lines can form into midbrain dopaminergic nerve cells; 3/ To determine whether mutations in parkin and PINK1 effect the survival of dopaminergic neurons which are derived from the PD-SCs cells. Successful completion of this study will yield novel cellular models for studying the mechanisms involved in PD initiation and progression, and further screening remedies for PD treatment.

During last year, we have successfully obtained more primary skin fibroblast cultures from PD patients harboring mutations of parkin, PINK1, DJ-1 and PLA2G6 genes, as well as sporadic PD patients and normal control individuals. By using these cells, we have already generated 9 induced stem cell lines expressing multiple pluripotent markers (7 from PD patients and 2 from normal individuals). These lines can also form teratomas with cells from three germ layers using mouse as host. These findings suggest that the induced pluripotent cell lines generated in the lab are likely PD patient specific stem cells.

During the next report year, we will continue to generate more PD patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells. We will carefully characterize all lines generated in the lab as proposed. Furthermore, we will adapt protocols to differentiate the new lines into dopaminergic neurons.