Keep in the PINK to Avoid Parkinson’s

Keeping fit and avoiding diabetes could also help to protect you from
Parkinson’s disease. A team of scientists at Heriot-Watt University in
Edinburgh have discovered a mechanism linking the development of
Parkinson’s disease to people who have already developed Type II

In recent months researchers in Finland have demonstrated that your risk
of developing Parkinson’s is approximately doubled if you develop Type
II Diabetes, while American researchers have shown that if you exercise
regularly (which decreases your chance of getting diabetes) you are also
half as likely to get Parkinson’s, but no-one was sure why.

The Heriot-Watt team, led by Professor James Timmons, Professor of
Exercise Biology
at the School of Life Sciences, have discovered that the biochemical
changes brought about by diabetes switch off a gene called the PINK1
gene, and loss of function of this gene is a established cause of

The team made their discovery by comparing 200 tissue samples donated by
volunteers, many of whom have been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. They
found that the Diabetes patients produce less of the product of the
PINK1 gene, and are thus more liable to develop Parkinson’s, and that
this may happen because it is the immediate neighbour of a known
Diabetes gene (DDOST).

Professor Timmons said, “Loss of PINK1 isn’t the only cause of
Parkinson’s, but discovering this direct link between Diabetes and
regulation of the PINK1 gene is the first example of a molecular
mechanism potentially linking the two terrible illnesses, rather than
just a statistical association in population studies. The next step is
to find exactly how loss of PINK1 actually causes the neuronal cell
death, and hence Parkinson’s.

“It also helps to demonstrate that, in contrast to the traditional image
of whether you have a ‘healthy’ gene sequence or not, in fact your
‘healthy’ genetic sequence can ‘switched off’ over time, leading to the
development of illness, and importantly that these changes can be caused
by external influences such as lifestyle choices.”

The next step for the team is to understand the biochemical process
which actually causes the PINK1 (and related Diabetes gene) to be
switched off, in the hope that they can find ways to tackle both
diseases. Meanwhile their recommendation is to make the lifestyle
choices including taking regular exercise, which can help to prevent
Diabetes and thereby potentially reduce your risk of developing

For further information please contact:
Caroline Dempster
Press Officer
Heriot-Watt University
Tel: 0131-451 3443


The Heriot-Watt team worked with Danish and American-based research
colleagues in the production of their article, ‘Altered regulations of
the PINK1 locus: a link between Type 2 Diabetes and neurodegeneration?’,
to be published in “The Federation of American Societies for
Experimental Biology Journal”. The scientists related PINK1 expression
to their physical fitness and diabetes status and found Diabetes
patients had much less of the gene expressed. The loss of expression of
the PINK1 gene would make the diabetes patients more at risk for
developing Parkinson’s.

The Heriot-Watt based research team have shown that this “switching off”
of the PINK1 may occur because it is the immediate neighbour of a known
diabetes gene (DDOST). This is because of the down regulation related to
the appearance of glucose modified protein in patient blood samples. The
DDOST gene makes a protein that combats the effect of elevated glucose
levels on blood proteins. However it is inappropriately switched off
with chronic diabetes and it now looks like the neighbouring PINK1 gene
is also switched off, perhaps by accident during this process. This is
because the two genes are extremely closely situated on our genomes and
may be subject to epigenetic regulation.

Gerald Weissman MD, Editor-in-Chief of the Faseb Journal, commented on
this exciting new research: “The work is an important step in
understanding how obesity, diabetes and inactivity contribute to altered
energy metabolism: all three conditions change the way our cells live
and breathe by identifying the control of energy metabolism by an enzyme
called PINK1, which is altered in Parkinson’s Disease. They have also
pointed to a new understanding of how brain cells live and die. Not only
the title of the paper but the work itself gives new meaning to the
expression ‘Staying in the pink.’

“This new data from Heriot-Watt scientists is the first molecular
mechanism that directly links one small piece of our genome directly to
these two divergent and devastating human diseases, Diabetes and
Parkinson’s. We believe that Future studies examining the biochemical
mechanism that promotes the shutting down of these two genes may yield
important information for drug therapy development and this work will be
carried out within the translational Medicine research group at
Heriot-Watt University”.

Contact: Caroline Dempster
Phone: 0131 451 3443
Email: xx@xx.xx