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Understanding Parkinson’s disease from a cell’s perspective

Scientists estimate a human brain has around 86 billion neurons, the cells that make up our brain and nervous system. Dopaminergic neurons make up only a few percent of our neurons, but play a big role in our ability to control our movements. Unlike other cells, dopaminergic neurons cannot regenerate: if they are lost, they are lost for good.

D Aneurons postmortem

Dopaminergic neurons in a post-mortem brain

© Grünewald Lab

Loss of neurons, loss of control

The loss of these neurons is why people who have Parkinson’s disease experience the most well-known symptoms of this disease: shaking and loss of control of movements. Around 1200 people in Luxembourg, and 1.2 million people in Europe are living with Parkinson’s disease. One well-known person who is living with this disease is actor Michael J Fox.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s and while science has come a long way in characterising the disease, many questions remain, such as: why do the dopaminergic neurons of these people degenerate?

Looking for clues inside the neurons

Neuroscientist Prof. Anne Grünewald and her team at the University of Luxembourg’s Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) study mitochondria, the powerhouse of these cells, to see if clues could be found here.

“What is special about mitochondrial DNA is there is not just one or two copies of DNA per cell, but hundreds. It makes sense to look at individual cells, because they might be different in their characteristics from one to the other.

“I have an interest in the brain because it is the most important part of the body. For cells, mitochondria play the same role: without them, not much works. I want to understand the mechanism behind Parkinson’s disease and whether the mitochondrial DNA is somehow contributing to it.” – Prof Anne Grünewald, University of Luxembourg

Anne has come to Luxembourg to do her research thanks to an FNR ATTRACT Fellowship, as part of which the FNR gives promising young scientists the chance to come (or return) to Luxembourg to set up their own research group.

Anne gruenewald

Anne Grünewald

Discover more about the research of Anne Grünewald’s lab in the video below, or read our interview with Anne on fnr.lu.

More about Parkinson’s disease research in Luxembourg

Luxembourg is very active in the field of Parkinson’s disease research, with dozens of running research projects. The main one is a large 8-year research programme (NCER-PD), which the FNR supports with around 14 MEUR. The programme includes a study with 1600 participants in Luxembourg. www.parkinson.lu

Discover more articles about Parkinson’s disease research in Luxembourg on Science.lu (DE or FR).

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