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Synthetic Peptide Protects Neurons Damaged by Parkinson’s

Brain synapses illustration

(AllanAjifo, Wikimedia Commons)

16 December 2015. A study by a start-up biotechnology company and university medical center shows an engineered peptide can protect brain cells in lab mice from damage by toxins like those causing Parkinson’s disease. The findings by a team from Longevity Biotech in Philadelphia and University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha are published in today’s issue of Journal of Neuroscience (paid subscription required).

Parkinson’s disease occurs when the brain produces less and less of the substance dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends signals from one neuron or nerve cell to another. As the level of dopamine lowers, individuals become less able to control their bodily movements and emotions. Symptoms include tremors, i.e. shaking, slowness and rigidity in movements, loss of facial expression, decreased ability to control blinking and swallowing, and in some cases, depression and anxiety. According to Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, some 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

Longevity Biotech develops synthetic molecules similar to peptides the company calls hybridtides, with surface properties similar to natural peptides, but engineered to contain payloads and characteristics better suited for therapies. One of the company’s early products is a synthetic compound code-named LBT-3627 designed to act like vasoactive intestinal peptide, with natural anti-inflammatory properties. However, this peptide in its natural state breaks down quickly in the body, and cannot distinguish among receptors for pathways protecting nerve cells in the brain, thus is not feasible as a therapy.

LBT-3627, says Longevity, captures the anti-inflammatory properties of vasoactive intestinal peptides, but also specifically targets receptors for protecting nerve cells. The compound works by interacting with lymphocytes, white blood cells in the immune system that can damage nerve cells. LBT-3627 instead reverses the actions of lymphocytes so they protect rather than damage nerve cells.

The study conducted by a team led by University of Nebraska pharmacologist and neuroscientst Howard Gendelman tested LBT-3627 in lab mice induced with toxins similar to those generated in the brain causing damage to dopamine-producing brain cells. The results showed treatments with LBT-3627 could protect as many as 80 percent of the dopamine-producing cells.

“The key finding in our study,” says Gendelman in a university statement, “was that a specific white blood cell subset was produced as a consequence of LBT-3627 treatment and provided protection of dopamine producing nerve cells from being damaged.” In addition, mice receiving LBT-3627 showed less inflammatory activity of microglial cells in the brain, as well as reductions in enzymes promoting inflammation.

Longevity Biotech says it plans to continue with preclinical studies, aiming for early-stage clinical trials in 2017. The company was one of the first recipients of support from Breakout Labs, a seed funder and incubator of potentially high-impact life science and biotechnology start-up enterprises, as reported by Science and Enterprise in April 2012.

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