Rapid animal models of neurodegeneration

Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating disorder, classically characterised by progressive and selective loss of dopaminergic neurons within the substantia nigra.

By the time a patient presents with motor symptoms 60-70% of the nigral dopaminergic neurons have already been destroyed. Although current pharmacotherapies offer some effectiveness in early stages of disease, these medications offer only symptomatic relief and fail to protect the remaining neurons from eventual degeneration.

Devising therapeutics that address not only the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease but also the cause (so called ‘disease modifiers’) are of vital importance. While mammalian-based Parkinson’s disease research is clearly a necessary step, sole reliance on mammalian models limits the rate at which new therapeutics can be identified.

More rapid whole animal screening technologies are needed to develop therapeutics. We have identified the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as being highly suited for studying neurodegeneration, genetic interactions and drug mode-of-action.