Cellular models to investigate biochemical pathways in Parkinson’s disease


M. Fasano, Department of Biomedical, Informatics and Communication Sciences, and Centre of Neuroscience, University of Insubria, via Alberto da Giussano 12, 21052 Busto Arsizio, Italy
Fax: +39 0331 339459
Tel: +39 0331 339450
E-mail: mauro.fasano@uninsubria.it


Cellular models are instrumental in dissecting a complex pathological process into simpler molecular events. Parkinson’s disease is multifactorial and clinically heterogeneous; the aetiology of the sporadic (and most common) form is still unclear and only a few molecular mechanisms have been clarified so far in the neurodegenerative cascade. In such a multifaceted picture, it is particularly important to identify experimental models that simplify the study of the different networks of proteins/genes involved. Cellular models that reproduce some of the features of the neurons that degenerate in Parkinson’s disease have contributed to many advances in our comprehension of the pathogenic flow of the disease. In particular, the pivotal biochemical pathways (i.e. apoptosis and oxidative stress, mitochondrial impairment and dysfunctional mitophagy, unfolded protein stress and improper removal of misfolded proteins) have been widely explored in cell lines, challenged with toxic insults or genetically modified. The central role of α-synuclein has generated many models aiming to elucidate its contribution to the dysregulation of various cellular processes. In conclusion, classical cellular models appear to be the correct choice for preliminary studies on the molecular action of new drugs or potential toxins and for understanding the role of single genetic factors. Moreover, the availability of novel cellular systems, such as cybrids or induced pluripotent stem cells, offers the chance to exploit the advantages of an in vitro investigation, although mirroring more closely the cell population being affected.