illustration by Leif Parsons

A Cream for Parkinson’s

An ingredient in anti-wrinkle cream may soon be a potent weapon in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. HHMI Investigator Kevan Shokat has shown that kinetin, a plant hormone with anti-aging properties, stops the nerve cell death associated with the disease.

Some cases of inherited Parkinson’s are linked to mutations in a protein called PINK1. Normally, when the mitochondria that power nerve cells become damaged, PINK1 comes to the site and recruits other proteins to remove the mitochondria before they release toxic compounds. Mutated PINK1, however, is inactive and unable to signal its helper proteins. As a result, the damaged mitochondria are never removed, and the nerve cell dies.

Shokat and his colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, wanted a way to ramp up PINK1 activity. As they reported August 15, 2013, in Cell, they found that kinetin activates both normal and mutant PINK1 and decreases nerve cell death. Because it also affected normal PINK1, the researchers hope kinetin may slow disease progression in those without a family history of the disease as well.

The researchers are testing kinetin in animal models of Parkinson’s. “[It’s] a great molecule to pursue because it’s already sold in drugstores as a topical anti-wrinkle cream,” says Shokat. “So it’s a drug we know has been in people and is safe.”

Scientist Profile

Investigator
University of California, San Francisco
Cancer Biology, Chemical Biology

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