Advancing Research

Meet the Researcher: Gene Mutation That Promotes Protein Aggregation Could Spur Parkinson's

Scientist in a lab

Over the next three years the Parkinson’s Foundation will invest more than $50 million to Parkinson’s disease (PD) research and clinical care. At the heart of our research initiatives are scientists and researchers who have received Foundation awards to improve our understanding of Parkinson’s, which will ultimately lead us to a cure.

A key feature of Parkinson’s disease is abnormal protein clumping within nerve cells or neurons. These protein clumps, called aggregates, spread throughout the nervous system as Parkinson’s progresses. How this occurs remains unclear.

Mutations in the GBA1 gene are a strong genetic risk factor for developing Parkinson’s. They are also linked with faster progression of motor and cognitive symptoms.

Marie Ynez Davis, MD, PhD

Marie Ynez Davis, MD, PhD, of VA Puget Sound, received a Clinical Research Award from the Parkinson’s Foundation to investigate a potential new role for the gene GBA1 in speeding the spread of protein aggregates through exosomes. These are small bubble-like structures released by neurons and other cells. They contain proteins and other material that can travel and be received by other neurons and cells.

Dr. Davis’ goal is to find out whether a lack of GBA1 influences the development of Parkinson’s by increasing the number of exosomes and the proteins inside them that can be delivered to other neurons. This could promote clumping in the receiving neurons throughout the nervous system.

To achieve this goal, she will study human neurons from people with GBA1 mutations and Parkinson’s. She will examine the development and structure of exosomes. She will also look at their ability to promote protein aggregation.

Our hope is that results from this work will improve our understanding of how Parkinson’s occurs. It may also reveal new targets for therapies that could halt or slow progression of the disease.

Parkinson's Foundation Clinical Research Awards help facilitate the development of clinician scientists, ensuring that promising early career scientists stay in the PD field to help us solve, treat and end this disease. 

What's Next: Reporting Our Findings
Parkinson’s Foundation research awards fund Parkinson’s studies than can span up to three years. Scientists submit yearly progress reports to the Parkinson’s Foundation, and we report findings once the studies have concluded. Stay up to date with our latest research findings at

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