Wasp Venom and Parkinson's Disease — Chromatography Identifies the Link

Mar 01 2018 Read 2189 Times

Entomologist’s from the University of California, Riverside have uncovered a potential link between wasp venom and Parkinson’s disease. In a paper published in the journal BiochemistryAmpulexins: A New Family of Peptides in Venom of the Emerald Jewel Wasp, Ampulex compressa — they report that the venom induces Parkinson-like symptoms in their prey. Using this knowledge could lead to new ways to treat the disease. Let’s take a look.

James Parkinson — An Essay on Shaking Palsy

Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating brain disease — that leads to a progressive loss of coordination and movement. It is named after a physician who described the condition in 1817 in ‘An Essay on Shaking Palsy’. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease with the symptoms getting progressively worse. It is due to nerve cells, or neurons, in a region of the brain malfunctioning or dying — a process known as neurodegeneration.

Reduced dopamine — no cure.

The neurons are responsible for producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine — which transfers signals between neurons. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters involved in transferring messages from the brain to control our movement and coordination. As the dopamine-producing neurons die, the levels of dopamine in the brain drop. And the muscle control and movement get progressively worse.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include involuntary tremors, slower movements and impaired balance. It can also cause other problems with sleep, speech and mood. Diagnosis is difficult, and the causes are not yet known. With no known cure yet, scientists are working on looking for any data that can help progress the current knowledge about the disease. Hence, the work on wasp venom and why it might be good news for Parkinson disease.

Cockroach wasp — Parkinson link?

A team from California studied the effect the venom from the Emerald Cockroach Wasp and the effect it has on its prey — cockroaches. When a roach gets stung by the wasp it also gets impregnated by the wasp’s egg. The cockroach enters a state known as hypokinesia — a reduced control of muscle movement like that suffered by Parkinson’s disease.

To help find out what was happening the team used liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry to study the toxins in the wasp’s venom. Of course, using chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyse samples is nothing new as discussed in the article, Enhanced Peptide Identification Using Capillary UHPLC and Orbitrap Mass Spectrometry.

The team found a new family of peptides that they have called ‘ampulexins’ that they think have a role in controlling the cockroaches after they have been stung. When they separated some of these peptides and injected them into cockroaches, the roaches became less responsive. It is thought that the peptides are interfering with the dopamine pathways — thus affecting muscle control and movement.

The research has promise — but it is still a long way to go before a Parkinson’s breakthrough using wasp venom can be announced.

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Chromatography Today - March 2018 Volume 11 Issue 1

March 2018

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