the cause of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases has long intrigued scientists. Researchers of University of Warwick and iit, Kanpur, zeroed in on a protein, the malfunctioning of which, they say, could be a possible cause for the diseases.
The study noted that transferrin, a protein that transports iron from the blood to the brain, may not be doing its job well. That may lead to exposure of other cells to iron, and their subsequent degeneration and the diseases. The protein binds iron on to its surface. It then curls around the iron and seals it. This prevents the iron from getting exposed to other cells till it reaches its destination organ--the brain.
In the experiment, transferrin was placed on an open surface and observed over a period of time. "We simulated conditions for ageing so that the existing molecules interacted with each other. We found the molecules self-assembled into fibres and iron that was earlier wrapped inside the protein started settling in bands along the length of the fibre," says Sandeep Verma of the Department of Chemistry, iit, Kanpur. "Iron when exposed to molecular oxygen, leads to degeneration of cells," says Verma. The study was published in Angewandte Chemie (Vol 9999, No 2008). Although the researchers say exposure of brain cells to iron leads to the diseases, they say there is no clear reason for the exposure. "Dehydration may be responsible for it. There are restricted membranes where water does not go easily or has been removed from the vicinity of the protein, resulting in the protein malfunction," says Verma.
However, their experiment is not foolproof because the biological environment is more complicated. Experiments need to be conducted in that medium. "Definitive proof will come only from clinicians who can slice out a part of the brain and test for iron deposition," he added.
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