Researchers at Flinders University, Australia, have discovered the mechanism involved in dealing with biological stresses and associated protein misfolding in pregnant women. The team found higher levels of a protein called pregnancy zone protein (PZP), which plays a key role in maintaining protein homeostasis. An enhanced understanding of PZP’s mechanism of action opens up a novel target for the treatment of a number of diseases which are associated with protein misfolding.
Scientists began investigating PZP after staying a closely related protein called alpha-2macroglobulin, which also plays a key role in stabilising misfolded proteins. Their new research used donations of blood plasma from women across the UK and Australia as well as placentas from women in the US. The study’s findings are particularly exciting because it is the first demonstration that pregnancy causes major adaptions which enhance the body’s ability to deal with elevated protein misfolding.
Elevated PZP levels are found in a number of inflammation-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, viral infections and arthritis. However, this may be a functional response by the body to try to ameliorate the physiological stress caused by the inflammation.
Researchers are keen to use their findings in the development of new drugs for misfolding protein-based diseases but currently lacks any relations with the pharma industry to enable this. The team are also currently working to understand more about the PZP-related processes in the body.