Understanding the Blood-Brain Barrier’s Role in Parkinson’s Disease
Aurélie de Rus Jacquet, PhD, of CHU de Québec-Université Laval, received a Parkinson’s Foundation Launch Award to study molecules (or cells) that can affect the blood-brain barrier and thus contribute to Parkinson’s disease (PD).
“The Launch Award will enable me to investigate the role of the blood-brain barrier and brain-blood communication in the onset and development of Parkinson’s,” said Dr. de Rus Jacquet. “We hope to identify factors on either side of the blood-brain barrier that interfere with its proper functioning in Parkinson’s. These factors could become drug targets.”
In the brain and body, Parkinson’s disease:
- Decreases the rate of certain brain cells.
- Causes an increase in inflammatory signals in the bloodstream.
- Makes PD-related protein called alpha-synuclein more toxic in the brain.
- Increases production of antibodies that recognize alpha-synuclein.
Cells in the brain are protected by a specialized security system called the blood-brain barrier. This is a network of blood vessels that allows the entry of essential nutrients while blocking other substances. People with Parkinson’s disease progressively lose this protection. When this happens, toxins and immune cells from outside the brain can enter the brain and speed disease progression. Researchers do not know what causes this. Loss of the barrier’s protection could be induced by toxic signals in the blood. It also could be caused by an inability of brain cells to maintain a strong barrier.
In her research, Dr. de Rus Jacquet will use complex state-of-the-art Parkinson’s models. She established a 3-D model of the blood-brain barrier using cells generated from both people with and without a PD-related gene mutation.
"Opening a new laboratory as an early career scientist will be an exciting adventure. I will face many challenges. but this Parkinson’s Foundation grant will greatly facilitate my success."
She will focus on brain cells called astrocytes, which are essential for the blood-brain barrier to efficiently function. She has found that Parkinson’s astrocytes are not able to form a strong barrier. Dr. de Rus Jacquet will test whether this leads to immune cells infiltrating the brain side of her model, mimicking a key aspect of Parkinson’s.
In a second set of experiments, Dr. de Rus Jacquet will study how plasma proteins are involved in Parkinson’s. She will expose the “blood” side of the barrier to the plasma of donors with and without Parkinson’s. She will determine how this plasma affects barrier function. She will see which plasma proteins cross the blood-brain barrier to affect cell health.
Of her Parkinson’s Foundation grant award, Dr. de Rus Jacquet said, “The Launch Award will have a profound impact on my career and abilities to continue research on Parkinson’s disease. This award is a recognition of research excellence. It also financially supports the first two years of my future independent career. Opening a new laboratory as an early career scientist will be an exciting adventure. I will face many challenges. but this Parkinson’s Foundation grant will greatly facilitate my success.”
Meet more Parkinson’s researchers! Explore our My PD Stories featuring PD researchers.
Explore more of Dr. de Rus Jacquet’s research
Aurelie de Rus Jacquet will be furthering her research for which she received a Parkinson’s Foundation research grant in 2021. Read about her Postdoctoral Fellowship for Basic Scientists research below.
What Role Does the Blood-Brain Barrier Play in Parkinson’s?
Postdoctoral Fellowship for Basic Scientists
Aurelie de Rus Jacquet, PhD of Université Laval, Québec (Canada), received a Parkinson’s Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship grant to study molecules (or cells) that could promote dysfunction in a specialized vascular system called the blood-brain barrier. People with Parkinson’s disease progressively lose the blood-brain barrier’s protection, but it is not currently understood why.
This barrier controls the crossing between the blood and the brain, and prevents toxic molecules found in the blood from entering the sensitive brain tissue and damaging cells.
The goal of this research is to identify factors on either side of the blood-brain barrier that could become targets for new drug treatments for PD.
“Most of the past research in the field has focused on understanding why neurons die over the course of the disease, but it is becoming clear that Parkinson’s disease is more complex than the loss of neurons,” said Dr. de Rus Jacquet. “Non-neuronal cells are also involved, and they could hold the key to understanding the global events underlying Parkinson’s disease onset and progression.”
Dr. de Rus Jacquet continued, “The second objective of the research is to understand if the blood of people with Parkinson’s disease contains toxic molecules that enter the brain and induce a loss of neurons and inflammation of the brain tissue. This topic is relatively less studied, but I find it fascinating because it could help identify new drug targets to slow or stop disease progression.”
Dr. de Rus Jacquet has established a 3D model of the blood-brain barrier using cells generated from healthy donors or people with a specific Parkinson’s disease-related gene mutation. She hopes to discover if non-neuronal cells or blood-borne factors may be responsible for the loss of neurons, and if targeting these cells could possibly help combat neurodegeneration.
“This award is an important recognition that my work can have a meaningful impact on the lives of people with Parkinson’s,” said Dr. de Rus Jacquet. “I would like to thank all Parkinson’s Foundation supporters for helping us move the research forward. Finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease and improving people’s lives is at the heart of what we do, and we can only achieve these goals by working together.”