Our article this week talks about how the MAPK pathway is highly linked with several neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS – Almytotropic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and cancer. A single pathway that is connected with so many influential diseases is exciting in that it offers a great deal of potential and a great challenge.
The MAPK Pathway
At the most basic level, the MAPK (Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase) pathway is a set of proteins that activate one another by setting off and activating a kinase chain eventually leading to transcription factors in the nucleus being activated and the expression and coding of genes. More specifically, while not the only factor, it controls cell life and death.
This flow chart from this weeks article shows the three different MAPK protein pathways: ERK, p38, and JNK. In general, ERK can be associated with cell life or proliferation, while p38 and JNK can be associated with cell death or apoptosis. In Alzheimer’s Disease the ERK transcription is blocked and the p38/JNK pathway activated, which leads to cell degradation and apoptosis. In Parkinson’s Disease the activation of the p38/JNK pathway leads to the death of dopaminergic cells which lead to the symptoms associated with the disease. In ALS activation of the p38/JNK pathway leads to death of motor neurons. In Cancer, patients experience the over proliferation of cancer cells. In all of these cases there is malfunction of the MAPK pathway.
The link between all of these diseases and the MAPK pathway could be a great research opportunity because any new information that is acquired on the subject has the possibility of being applied to one or more of these diseases. This gives the prospect of moving forward in understanding of several diseases at the same time.
Using treatments of the MAPK pathway to find and treat the cause of the disease instead of treating symptoms . Since the MAPK pathway is highly linked to so many different diseases as well as cell life and death within the brain, selectivity of treatment would pose a dilemma. It would be unfortunate to find a way to treat one disease only to find that the treatment is leading to the cause of another disease or malfunction of the MAPK pathway in other parts of the brain.
The link between Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS – Almytotropic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and cancer through the MAPK pathway gives insight into how the brain works, and how these diseases effect the brain. It could in the future offers opportunities to find ways to treat the cause of the diseases, not only the symptoms. Other options such as gene therapy pose similar problems in that changing certain genes associated with the disease may help with the disease but cause unknown other problems in the future. There are still so many things we do now know or understand about how the brain works.