Advancing Research

Protein May Hold Clues to Development of Parkinson’s

Scientists 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.

scientist in lab


Alpha-synuclein (αSyn)is a protein central to Parkinson’s. In Parkinson’s, this protein misfolds, forming a clump in the brain. Large clumps are known as “Lewy bodies” and disrupt the brain’s normal functioning in people with PD.

Alpha-synuclein is also involved in the regulation of lipids and fatty acids, which help to prevent disease-associated changes in the brain. In Parkinson’s, alpha-synuclein is destabilized. This makes the protein more likely to break down and clump together. What triggers the destabilization of alpha-synuclein in the human brain remains one of the most critical questions in the study of Parkinson’s.

Tim Bartels, MSc, PhD, from Brigham and Women's Hospital Inc., received a Parkinson’s Foundation research grant to gain a better understating of alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s. He and his research team will analyze the interactions of lipids with different forms of alpha-synuclein in human brain samples. Dr. Bartels hopes to discover which lipids and fatty acids prevent alpha-synuclein aggregation and which ones promote aggregation.

He will also investigate the normal interaction of alpha-synuclein with fatty acids and lipids. Together, these approaches should suggest how to develop drugs that stabilize alpha-synuclein by mimicking the beneficial lipids and fatty acids.

Dr. Bartels team may also find a signature of specific lipids and fatty acids that are associated with PD. This could be an easily accessible biomarker — a biological molecule that is a sign of disease — for Parkinson’s. Having a biomarker for Parkinson’s could lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease. This can improve outcomes for people living with PD.

The Parkinson’s Foundation Stanley Fahn Junior Faculty Award helps ensure promising early career scientists stay in the PD research field. This award provides junior investigators the support they need to develop their own independent funding source.

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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