Researchers have found that a set of proteins have different shapes in the spinal fluid of healthy individuals and Parkinson’s patients. These could be used in the future as a new type of biomarker for this disease.

Many human diseases can be detected and diagnosed using biomarkers in blood or other body fluids. Parkinson’s disease is different: to date, there is no such biomarker being used in the clinicto indicate this neurodegenerative disease.

A team led by ETH Zurich Professor Paola Picotti could now help to close this gap. In a study just published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, the researchers present 76 proteins that might serve as biomarkers for the detection of Parkinson’s disease.

Different protein structure

What makes this study special is that while the potential biomarker proteins are found in both healthy and diseased individuals, their molecules are present in different shapes (or structures) in each of the two groups. It is not the presence of certain proteins that indicates the disease, but rather the shape they have assumed. This is the first time that scientists have shown that an analysis of the structures of all proteins in a body fluid can identify potential biomarkers for disease.

The next step will be to thoroughly test the markers found and verify them using larger groups of patients. That means these candidates are not yet available for clinical diagnoses. “But from what we’ve seen so far, they’re actually a very strong indicator for the disease. So I’m confident that this idea of structural biomarkers will bear out,” says Natalie de Souza, senior scientist in Paola Picotti’s group and one of the study’s co-authors.

Measuring structural changes

In their study, the researchers examined the cerebrospinal fluid of 50 healthy individuals and 50 Parkinson’s patients. The sample material was provided to them by Dutch clinicians.

To search for biomarkers, the scientists used a specific method for measuring the proteome (i.e. the totality of all proteins in a sample), called LiP-MS, which can measure structural changes in proteins and reveal where exactly the changes are located. Conventional proteome measurements tend to record only the different types of protein and their amounts, but not structural changes.

Since the structure of proteins is closely linked to their functions (or, indeed, dysfunctions), the researchers hypothesised that people with Parkinson’s and healthy individuals will exhibit different shapes of some proteins.

The present study marks the first time that the researchers have successfully applied the method to a disease.

Sharpening analysis further

In subsequent steps, the researchers want to further improve the LiP-MS method to amplify the biomarker signal and thus increase the sensitivity with which the disease can be detected. Moreover, the scientists would like to test the new biomarkers to assess how specifically they detect Parkinson’s disease or whether there might be overlap with other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. In future, the researchers also want to use their method to determine subtypes of Parkinson’s disease and make more accurate predictions about the course of the disease.

Exactly what clinically useful diagnostics this might lead to is still uncertain. De Souza estimates that a future testing strategy could be based on antibodies that would distinguish between healthy and diseased protein structures. Making regular use of mass spectrometers in a clinical setting is in principle possible, she says, but would be a big challenge.

Reference

Mackmull MT, Nagel L, Sesterhenn F. et al. Global, in situ analysis of the structural proteome in individuals with Parkinson’s disease to identify a new class of biomarker. Nat Struct Mol Biol 29, 978’989 (2022). DOI: external page 10.1038/s41594’022 -00837-0

Peter Rüegg

TECH NEWS RELATED

Scared of Shots? A Wearable Robot Can Improve Your Experience

The new robot can improve the experience of patients going through unpleasant medical procedures. Researchers from the University of Tsukuba discovered that wearing a soft robot can enhance the patient experience during medical treatments. While most of us cannot live without our cell phones, robots may soon become indispensable companions. ...

View more: Scared of Shots? A Wearable Robot Can Improve Your Experience

Teleporting and psychedelic mushrooms: a history of St Nicholas, Santa, and his helper

There are many sides to the beloved figure of Santa Claus – a giant of pop culture, he also has “miraculous” powers and ties to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Santa’s blend of religion and popular culture is, however, not modern at all. Several of Santa’s modern ...

View more: Teleporting and psychedelic mushrooms: a history of St Nicholas, Santa, and his helper

Researchers introduce method of coloring microscopic coral larvae to aid tracking for conservation and reef restoration

Representative images of free-swimming and newly metamorphosed larvae (Nile blue, unstained, neutral red) from Acropora anthocercis, Platygyra sinensis, Coelastrea aspera, and mixed Nile blue and neutral red stained Dipsastraea favus larvae. White scale bars = 1 mm. Credit: Doropoulos C and Roff G, 2022, PLOS Biology, CC-BY 4.0 A ...

View more: Researchers introduce method of coloring microscopic coral larvae to aid tracking for conservation and reef restoration

Viewpoint: Shipping must accelerate its decarbonization efforts, and now it has the opportunity to do so

Shipping emitted the same amount of carbon as Germany in 2018. Credit: petrugusa/Shutterstock Member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agency that regulates international maritime affairs, are meeting on December 5-16 to discuss how to accelerate the industry’s climate mitigation efforts. An initial strategy—agreed in 2018, ...

View more: Viewpoint: Shipping must accelerate its decarbonization efforts, and now it has the opportunity to do so

Crabs have evolved five separate times—why do the same forms keep appearing in nature?

Full size blue crab. Charles Darwin believed evolution created “endless forms most beautiful.” It’s a nice sentiment but it doesn’t explain why evolution keeps making crabs. Scientists have long wondered whether there are limits to what evolution can do or if Darwin had the right idea. The truth may ...

View more: Crabs have evolved five separate times—why do the same forms keep appearing in nature?

Statistics star number crunches Christmas, shows how math can help your decorations look tree-mendous

Professor Oliver Johnson has unravelled the numerical conundrums of Christmas ahead of the launch of his new book Numbercrunch. Credit: University of Bristol The festive countdown is in full swing and numbers are uppermost in mind, as people manage tighter budgets and fill their social calendars with long-awaited gatherings ...

View more: Statistics star number crunches Christmas, shows how math can help your decorations look tree-mendous

Many kids are struggling. Is special education the answer?

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain The COVID-19 pandemic sent Heidi Whitney’s daughter into a tailspin. Suddenly the San Diego middle schooler was sleeping all day and awake all night. When in-person classes resumed, she was so anxious at times that she begged to come home early, telling the nurse her ...

View more: Many kids are struggling. Is special education the answer?

Apple’s car delayed to 2026, won’t have full self-driving at launch

Apple has pushed the prospective launch of its long-awaited self-driving car back about a year to 2026, Bloomberg reports. Sources with knowledge of the company’s plans tell Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman that Apple is not only delaying the car project, called Titan internally, but scaling back the car’s self-driving features ...

View more: Apple’s car delayed to 2026, won’t have full self-driving at launch

Early and mail-in voting: Research shows they don't always bring in new voters

300,000 households across Britain could be homeless next year if government does not urgently change course

Successful completion of Lassa fever vaccine trial

Researchers, community partners tackle health threats from 'forever chemicals'

Estimating forest desiccation to better predict fire danger

Genetic barriers, a warming ocean, and the uncertain future for an important forage fish

Hurricane's effects killed sturgeon in Apalachicola River

Turning video on and seeing others may boost remote class experience

Stunning Satellite Image: Lava Flows North on Mauna Loa

Is there an afterlife? See how your answer compares to polled Americans

Long-lived lakes reveal a history of water on Mars

Sr-Nd isotope baseline in Silk Road regions enables archaeological plant-ash glass provenance

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News