$58,000 to unravel the sex-specific genetic causes of Parkinson’s disease

By Hudson Institute communications

Researchers from Hudson Institute and Monash University’s School of Clinical Sciences have received a $58,000 Bethlehem Griffiths Research Foundation grant to help understand the sex-specific genetic causes for why men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women.

The grant will support Dr Joohyung Lee and Professor Vincent Harley, and Professor of Neuroscience at Monash University’s School of Clinical Sciences and Director of Neurology at Monash Health, Professor Dominic Thyagarajan, to carry out a research project in Hudson Institute’s Brain and Gender lab.

Dr Joohyung Lee in the lab researching genetic causes of Parkinson's Disease
Dr Joohyung Lee

Dr Lee says the research project may prove that Y-chromosome gene SRY is associated with the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine, which causes the onset of Parkinson’s disease (PD).

“Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating disorder, primarily associated with inability to initiate and control voluntary movement,” Dr Lee said.

“These symptoms result from the loss of brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine, which acts as a signal to initiate movement.

“Men are twice as likely to develop PD as women and the progression of the disease is more rapid in men.”

Historically, this gender difference has been explained by the protective actions of oestrogen in females, but emerging evidence suggests that sex-chromosome genes also contribute.

Professor Vincent Harley from the Sex Development Research Group at Hudson Institute
Professor Vincent Harley

“We have shown that the Y chromosome gene, SRY, a key gene for switching on the male-sex, is also found in the male brain. We find SRY in the same brain cells that make dopamine and that SRY can turn on dopamine production in males,” Professor Harley said.

“Current PD therapies only treat the symptoms and do not halt or slow the dopamine cell loss in Parkinson’s disease, so it’s important that we explore potential sex genetic related causes of the disease.”

The researchers are hopeful the project may show that reducing SRY levels can slow or halt the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and dopamine cell loss.

“This evidence would provide a novel explanation as to why males are more susceptible to Parkinson’s disease, and open up this gene as a potential target for new therapies,” Professor Harley said.

The research could also be valuable in understanding the role of SRY in other male-biased brain disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia and attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

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