Alpha-synuclein has been the subject of so many articles, it does seem to get “under your skin”, so to speak! Now a research team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has found that the alpha-synuclein found just under the skin may be a potent biomarker for PARKINSON’S DISEASE. Non-motor symptoms such as changes in body temperature, bowel habits, and skin coloration often occur long before other symptoms that lead to the diagnosis of PARKINSON’S DISEASE. Finding a way to know who is at risk to develop PARKINSON’S DISEASE early in the process could enable earlier treatment and delay onset of the disease, or possibly lead to finding a cure. This is the search for a biomarker, and it is the basis of many current studies.
Dr. Roy Freeman and his team are one group involved in this search. Their research has focused on autonomic and peripheral nervous functions in PARKISON’S DISEASE, so they naturally looked at autonomic skin functions and reactions in this disease. They surmised that a skin biopsy might provide information that could identify a biomarker for PARKINSON’S DISEASE. In a small study funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) they examined 20 people with a diagnosis of PARKINSON’S DISEASE and 14 non-Parkinsonian controls. They took skin biopsies from three different locations on their legs and found … alpha-synuclein. Even higher levels of alpha-synuclein were found in the skin biopsies of people in more advanced stages of PARKINSON’S DISEASE.
The next steps in this study will be to measure alpha-synuclein in skin of people known to be at risk for PARKINSON’S DISEASE, and to see if depositions of alpha-synuclein in the skin can differentiate PARKINSON’S DISEASE from other neurodegenerative diseases. A small skin biopsy is a safe and simple procedure that could be a big breakthrough as a biomarker to predict PARKINSON’S DISEASE.
Article by Marcia McCall
N. Wang, C.H.Gibbons, J. Lafo, R. Freeman. Synuclein in cutaneous autonomic nerves. Neurology, 2013; DOI 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a9f449