The Fabulous Fruit Fly

Aloha, Colleagues,
I just saw some amazing research and need to share it with you. It is so cool!
On January 2, 2019, the National Institute of Health (NIH) released the results of a study suggesting that the body’s immune system may play a critical role in the damage caused by aging brain disorders, such as Alzheimers & Parkinson’s diseases.
These results are based on experiments in which the researchers altered the activity of a gene (Cdk4) that earlier studies have suggested is important for early brain development and may be involved in neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Earlier studies found that altering the Cdk4 gene sped up the aging process, causing subjects to die sooner and have signs of neurodegenerative brain damage.
Before you get too excited about this research, though, you need to know the subjects in these studies were fruit flies (Drosphililia melanogaster).
 
Research has to start somewhere, though, and these tiny critters are a favorite of genetic researchers. Besides having a ten-day generation time and thriving at room temperature approximately 50% of human genes have a Drosophila ortholog and 75 per cent of the genes that cause disease in humans are also found in the fruit fly. Fruit flies are small (3 mm long) but not so small that they can’t be seen without a microscope. This allows scientists to keep millions of them in the laboratory at a time. Besides, most clinical advances would not be possible without the knowledge of fundamental basic research.
In this study, published in Cell Reports, researchers suggested that altering Cdk4 resulted in the death of dopamine releasing neurons, especially in the brains of older flies. Typically, Parkinson’s disease damages the same types of cells in humans.
Further experiments (also in fruit flies) suggested the neuron loss happened because altering the Cdk4 gene disrupted the cell’s waste disposal system which, in turn, triggered the immune system to attack the animal’s own neurons. Genetically restoring the waste system or blocking the immune system’s responses prevented the reduction in dopamine neurons caused by altering the Cdk4 gene.
Yes, it’s early days. But the fact that a connection between the immune system and neurodegenerative disease has been established is great news. Imagine a world without Alzheimers or Parkinson’s or ALS?
I will never look at a fruit fly the same way again!
Thank you for all you do!
Leslie
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