Richard Parsons
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Personal profile

Research interests

Dr Parsons' research focuses upon the role that toxicology has in pathogenic process in neurodegenerative disease, in particular the interplay between environmental exposure and genetic susceptibility.

Alzheimer's disease – the production of amyloid-ß by the sequential actions of ß- and ß-secretase, and its subsequent aggregation into senile plaques, is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Dr Parsons' research has investigated how protein lipidation (palmitoylation and isoprenylation) regulates the protein:protein interactions between ß-secretase (BACE1) and other proteins involved in its subcellular trafficking. BACE1 undergoes highly-regulated subcellular trafficking within the cell, and within certain subcellular regions BACE1 associates with its substrate, APP, leading to cleavage and production of amyloid-ß.

Dr Parsons' research has shown that inhibition of these protein lipidation reactions results in altered subcellular trafficking and reduced amyloid-ß. In collaboration with colleagues from St. George's, University of London, he is currently investigating the role that protein isoprenylation has in the amyloid-ß-induced inflammatory response. 

Parkinson's disease - dysfunctional energy metabolism is present in many neurodegenerative diseases, which arises from reduced Complex I activity. The highly oxidising environment within the dopaminergic neurones of the substantia nigra, the neurones which degenerate in Parkinson's, leaves them particularly susceptible to reduced Complex I activity.

Dr Parsons is interested into how N-methylation biotransformation of proneurotoxins is involved in the pathogenic process. His research has shown that the enzyme nicotinamide N-methyltransferase (NNMT), which converts nicotinamide (a form of vitamin B3) into 1-methylnicotinamide, is significantly higher in PD brain than in disease-control brain. This appears to be a neuroprotective response of the cell to the underlying pathogenic process, as 1-methylnicotinamde is neuroprotective towards dopaminergic neurones, increasing Complex I activity and stabilising its structure.

Also, overexpressing NNMT in a dopaminergic neuronal cell-line leads to increased cell viability and Complex I activity. In collaboration with colleagues both within the Division and at Imperial, the next stage in Dr Parsons' research is to design lead compounds which exploit this neuroprotective action of 1-methylnicotinamide, which may provide a viable therapeutic avenue for the treatment of PD

Research interests (short)

Role that toxicology has in pathogenic process in neurodegenerative disease, in particular the interplay between environmental exposure and genetic susceptibility.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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