University researchers have discovered CsgC, a protein made by the gut bacteria E. coli, which may one day play a role in treating dieses such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Molecular Biology Prof. Matthew Chapman was a principal investigator on the project and Rackham student Margery Evans served as the study’s lead author, acting as a research assistant and conducted her doctorate thesis on the study. A number of undergraduate students both from the University and abroad collaborated on the research.

Chapman explained how the CsgC is able to prevent the formation of amyloids — inappropriately folded proteins that have been known to cause neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

“For decades it was thought that amyloid formation was always a cellular mistake,” he said. “We realized that cells sometimes build amyloid fibers on purpose. That is why we were looking for factors in E. coli that prevented intracellular amyloid formation.”

After working on the study for two to three years, Chapman and his colleagues discovered that CsgC, native to E. coli bacteria cells, guards the cells and prevents amyloids from forming inside them.

Evans emphasized the role of amyloid formation in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and said isolating CsgC is a positive step in treating these ailments.

“Our discoveries have moved the field closer to understanding and preventing the very widespread biological process of amyloid formation,” she said.

Though it is possible that the research could lead to treatment for Parkinson’s, Chapman noted that this notion is “within the realm of optimistic thinking,” but added that there is much more research to be done.

“Understanding what the potential therapeutics for a particular disease are just the first step,” he said. “We still have lots of work to do to provide a cure.”

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