Mark Wilson, PhD
We are interested in understanding the biochemical basis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) by using a combination of structural and biophysical approaches to study certain proteins involved in the disease. PD is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that results from the death of dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain. The causes of the common sporadic form of PD are unknown; however dramatic progress in the understanding of the biochemical foundations of Parkinsonism has been made through the study of rare, heritable forms of the disease. Genetic studies of these heritable forms of PD have led to the identification of several genes whose mutation causes Parkinsonism, and we are structurally and biophysically characterizing these proteins to achieve an atomic level of understanding of their functions.
In particular, our current research is focused on the Parkinsonism-associated protein DJ-1, whose normal function includes cellular protection from oxidative stress. When DJ-1 is absent or inactivated, cells die prematurely when oxidatively challenged. We are currently studying how DJ-1 responds to reactive oxygen species, and how this oxidative response may also be relevant for DJ-1’s role in cancer. Lastly, we are structurally and functionally characterizing additional selected members of the DJ-1 superfamily, which has representatives in all organisms, most of whose functions are unknown.