Cellular power outages may contribute to Parkinson's disease, according to an analysis of gene expression in hundreds of brain tissue samples.

When Clemens Scherzer at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues looked for pathways that are wrongly expressed in Parkinson's disease, they found ten that had not previously been linked to the condition. All ten are important for proper functioning of the cell's energy-generating structures, the mitochondria.

In particular, genes under the control of a protein called PGC-1α are expressed at low levels in patients with Parkinson's disease. When the team overexpressed PGC-1α in rat neurons grown in culture, the cells became more resistant to chemicals that damage mitochondria and cause Parkinson's-like changes. The results suggest that PGC-1α activation could one day be used to treat the disease.

Sci. Transl. Med. 2, 52ra73 (2010).