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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

parkin counteracts symptoms in a Drosophila model of Parkinson's disease

Annika FM Haywood and Brian E Staveley*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, A1B 3X9, Canada

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BMC Neuroscience 2004, 5:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-5-14

Published: 16 April 2004



Parkinson's disease, a prevalent neurodegenerative disease, is characterized by the reduction of dopaminergic neurons resulting in the loss of motor control, resting tremor, the formation of neuronal inclusions and ultimately premature death. Two inherited forms of PD have been linked to mutations in the α-synuclein and parkin genes. The parkin protein functions as an ubiquitin ligase targeting specific proteins for degradation. Expression of human α-synuclein in Drosophila neurons recapitulates the loss of motor control, the development of neuronal inclusions, degeneration of dopaminergic neurons and the ommatidial array to provide an excellent genetic model of PD.


To investigate the role of parkin, we have generated transgenic Drosophila that conditionally express parkin under the control of the yeast UAS enhancer. While expression of parkin has little consequence, co-expression of parkin with α-synuclein in the dopaminergic neurons suppresses the α-synuclein-induced premature loss of climbing ability. In addition directed expression of parkin in the eye counteracts the α-synuclein-induced degeneration of the ommatidial array. These results show that parkin suppresses the PD-like symptoms observed in the α-synuclein-dependent Drosophila model of PD.


The highly conserved parkin E3 ubiquitin ligase can suppress the damaging effects of human α-synuclein. These results are consistent with a role for parkin in targeting α-synuclein to the proteasome. If this relationship is conserved in humans, this suggests that up-regulation of parkin should suppress α-synucleinopathic PD. The development of therapies that regulate parkin activity may be crucial in the treatment of PD.