Dr. Anumantha Kanthasamy
Searching for a Cure

For the past two decades, understanding Parkinson’s disease has been the primary focus of Dr. Anumantha Kanthasamy's research efforts.

And he hopes that understanding will eventually lead to a cure of the devastating disease.

Now recent research conducted by Kanthasamy’s laboratory may hint at a possible new treatment for Parkinson’s. His research group has identified a protein called Prokineticin-2 (PK2) that may protect brain cells and is expressed with greater frequency in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

“The neurons use PK2 to cope with stress. It’s an in-built protective mechanism,” said Kanthasamy, a Clarence Hartley Covault Distinguished Professor in veterinary medicine, the Eugene and Linda Lloyd Endowed Chair of Neurotoxicology, and chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Prokineticin-2 stimulates the neurons to produce more mitochondria, the part of the cell that produces energy. The resulting improved energy production helps neurons withstand the ravages of the disease, which is a neurological disorder that results in insufficient levels of dopamine in the brain.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that takes years to develop. A better understanding of Prokineticin-2 could turn up a means of slowing development of the disease or lead to new therapies, Kanthasamy said. For instance, there may be ways to stimulate more production of the protein or protein analogs to bind with its receptors on neurons, he said.

The research team took a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to studying Parkinson’s disease. The study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to Kanthasamy and Arthi Kanthasamy, Dean’s Professor in veterinary medicine, and Anumantha’s spouse. Six graduate students in Kanthasamy’s lab also contributed to the study, including co-first authors Richard Gordon and Matthew Neal, as well as researchers at other institutions.

The scientists studied cultured brain cells, a rodent model and post-mortem human brains to track changes brought on by Parkinson’s disease, and they confirmed a high expression of Prokineticin-2 in each facet of the study.

It was this team effort that resulted in a comprehensive finding, Arthi Kanthasamy noted.The discovery prompted the research team to investigate more thoroughly.

“Of the thousands and thousands of factors we tracked in our experiments, why was this protein expressed so highly?” Arthi Kanthasamy said.

Finding the answer to that question poses a challenge that will take time to overcome, but the potential appears to be significant, she said.