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Dr. Zizhen Kang receives a two-year research grant from the National Institutes of Health

Dr. Zizhen Kang Dr. Zizhen Kang was awarded a two-year R21 research grant entitled "Understanding the Role of LRRK2 G2019S-mediated Gut-brain Axis in the Pathogenesis of Parkinson's Disease" from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world, with over 1 million Americans currently suffering from PD. The risk of PD increases greatly in people over the age of 65 years. Both genetic and environmental factors are known to contribute to the pathogenesis of PD. Among these, LRRK2-G2019S is the most prevalent, being found in a wide range of ethnic groups and in 1-3% of sporadic and 4-8% of familial PD cases. However, how LRRK2-G2019S promotes the pathogenesis of PD remains largely unknown.

Surprisingly, G2019S knock-in mice only develop pre-symptoms of PD, suggesting other triggers are needed for the pathogenesis. PD patients have higher incidence of gut dysbiosis, and gut dysbiosis promotes PD pathogenesis in animal models. Furthermore, IBD patients have 20–90% higher risk of developing PD. Intriguingly, a recent finding unraveled novel pathogenic LRRK2 variants shared by both IBD and PD, suggesting LRRK2 might bridge the gut-brain axis in PD pathogenesis. We thus hypothesize that second hit-induced LRRK2-mediated intestinal inflammation promotes the PD penetrance in the predisposed LRRK2-G2019S knock-in model. The objective of our study is to test the “two-hit” model for PD etiology in LRRK2-G2019S knock-in mice and establish novel PD models through the gut-brain axis. Our long-term goal is to understand the underlying mechanisms of the LRRK2-mediated gut-brain axis in the pathogenesis of PD.

Friday, September 16, 2022