Skip to content

Researchers identify the neurogenetic basis of excess iron in Parkinson’s disease.

It’s long been known that excess iron is found in the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), an incurable neurodegenerative condition that affects motor function. However, the mechanism by which iron wreaks damage on neurons to cause PD is unclear. Now, a study from researchers at the Buck Institute shows that the damage stems from an impairment in the lysosome, the organelle that acts as a cellular recycling center for damaged proteins. The team state that it is this impairment which allows excess iron to escape into the neurons where it causes toxic oxidative stress. The research will be published online in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Previous studies show that lysosomes are key to a process called autophagy, whereby damaged proteins are broken down into building blocks that are used to make newly-built proteins to take their place.  With age, however, the ability of the lysosome to participate in autophagy becomes slower, resulting in the build-up of unrecycled non-protein ‘garbage’ within the cells. Less-than-optimal autophagy has been associated with several age-related diseases, including PD.  Recent studies have shown that one of the most important functions of the lysosome is to store iron in a place in the cell where it is not accessible to participate in toxic oxidative stress-producing reactions.  The mutation responsible for a rare early onset form of PD called Kufor-Rakeb syndrome was identified in 2010.  The current study shows that a mutation in a lysosomal gene associated with Kufor-Rakeb syndrome results in the toxic release of iron into the cell resulting in neuronal cell death.

The current study in both mice and cultured human dopaminergic cells, investigated a mutation in a gene (ATP13A2) associated with a rare early onset form of Kufor-Rakeb syndrome. Results show that when researchers knocked out ATP13A2 the lysosome was unable to maintain the balance of iron within the cell.  The lab state that mutations in this same gene have also been recently linked to sporadic forms of PD.

The team surmise that their findings suggest that age-related impairments in lysosomal function that impact the ability of neurons to maintain a healthy balance of iron are part of what underlies the presentation of PD.  For the future, the researchers state now there is a more specific target to allow them to selectively impact iron toxicity within the affected neurons.

Source: The Buck Institute for Research on Aging


Dopaminergic neurons in the human substantia nigra, the cells preferentially lost in Parkinson's disease. The yellow staining represents iron-dependent staining of the neurons.  Credit: Subramanian Rajagopalan, MSc. Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
Dopaminergic neurons in the human substantia nigra, the cells preferentially lost in Parkinson’s disease. The yellow staining represents iron-dependent staining of the neurons. Credit: Subramanian Rajagopalan, MSc. Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

Healthinnovations View All

Michelle Petersen is the founder of Healthinnovations, having worked in the health and science industry for over 21 years, which includes tenure within the NHS and Oxford University. Healthinnovations is a publication that has reported on, influenced, and researched current and future innovations in health for the past decade.

Michelle has been picked up as an expert writer for Informa publisher’s Clinical Trials community, as well as being listed as a blog source by the world’s leading medical journals, including the acclaimed Nature-Springer journal series.

Healthinnovations is currently indexed by the trusted Altmetric and PlumX metrics systems, respectively, as a blog source for published research globally. Healthinnovations is also featured in the world-renowned BioPortfolio,, the life science, pharmaceutical and healthcare portal.

Most recently the Texas A&M University covered The Top 10 Healthinnovations series on their site with distinguished Professor Stephen Maren calling the inclusion of himself and his team on the list a reflection of “the hard work and dedication of my students and trainees”.

Michelle Petersen’s copy was used in the highly successful marketing campaign for the mega-hit film ‘Jumanji: The Next Level, starring Jack Black, Karen Gilian, Kevin Hart and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Michelle Petersen’s copywriting was part of the film’s coverage by the Republic TV network. Republic TV is the most-watched English language TV channel in India since its inception in 2017.

An avid campaigner in the fight against child sex abuse and trafficking, Michelle is a passionate humanist striving for a better quality of life for all humans by helping to provide traction for new technologies and techniques within healthcare.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.