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Vol. LXVII, No. 18
August 28, 2015

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PINK1 Protein Crucial for Removing Broken-Down Energy Reactors

Cells are powered by tiny energy reactors called mitochondria. When damaged, they leak destructive molecules that can cause substantial harm and eventually kill brain cells. Scientists at NINDS showed that a protein called PINK1 that is implicated in Parkinson’s disease is critical for helping cells get rid of dysfunctional mitochondria.

According to the new research, published in the journal Nature, PINK1 does this by triggering an intricate process called mitophagy that breaks down and removes damaged mitochondria from the cell.

“PINK1 is a flag of damaged mitochondria,” said Dr. Richard Youle, head of the NINDS biochemistry section and the study’s senior author. “It identifies which mitochondria need to be eliminated to keep cells healthy.”

Mutations in PINK1 and its partner molecule Parkin cause hereditary forms of Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, the inability to remove defective mitochondria from nerve cells has been linked to numerous neurodegenerative diseases, including the more common forms of Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Pelvic Pain May Be Common Among Women Of Reproductive Age

A high proportion of reproductive-age women may be experiencing pelvic pain that goes untreated, according to a study by researchers from NICHD and the University of Utah School of Medicine.

The researchers surveyed more than 400 women who were scheduled to undergo surgery or imaging for such reasons as infertility, menstrual irregularities, tubal sterilization or pelvic pain. As the researchers expected, reports of pain were highest for women diagnosed with endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. However, one-third of those without any pelvic condition also reported a high degree of ongoing pain or pain recurring during the menstrual cycle.

The study, published online in Human Reproduction, was conducted by Dr. Karen Schliep of NICHD.

“Our study suggests that many reproductive-age women are experiencing but not reporting some form of pelvic pain,” Schliep said. “If they aren’t doing so already, gynecologists may want to ask their patients if they’re experiencing pain, as well as the type and precise location of the pain, and offer treatment as appropriate. Similarly, women should let their doctors know if they’re in pain.”

Tell-Tale Biomarker Detects Early Breast Cancer

MRI machine

MRI machine

Photo: ©

Researchers have shown that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect the earliest signs of breast cancer recurrence and fast-growing tumors. The technique detects micrometastases, breakaway tumor cells with the potential to develop into dangerous secondary breast cancer tumors elsewhere in the body. The approach may offer an improved way to detect early recurrence of breast cancer in women and men. The work was funded by NIBIB.

“MRI has a wide array of diagnostic applications and shows promise in breast cancer detection and treatment monitoring,” said Dr. Richard Conroy of NIBIB. “The technique used by researchers in this study enables very early detection of metastatic spread, which would allow adaptation of treatment more quickly and hopefully lead to better outcomes in the future.”

The study was published online in the Aug. 12 issue of Nature Communications.

Report Examines Pain Prevalence, Severity and Duration

A new analysis of data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey has found that most American adults have experienced some level of pain, from brief to more lasting pain, and from relatively minor to more severe pain. The analysis helps to unravel the complexities of a nation in pain. It found that an estimated 25.3 million adults (11.2 percent) had pain every day for the preceding 3 months. Nearly 40 million adults (17.6 percent) experience severe levels of pain. Those with severe pain are also likely to have worse health status. The analysis was funded by NCCIH and was published in the Journal of Pain.

“The number of people who suffer from severe and lasting pain is striking,” said NCCIH director Dr. Josephine Briggs. “This analysis adds valuable new scope to our understanding of pain and could inform the National Pain Strategy in the areas of population research and disparities. It may help shape future research, development and targeting of effective pain interventions, including complementary health approaches.”

Pain is one of the leading reasons Americans turn to complementary health approaches such as yoga, massage and meditation—which may help manage pain and other symptoms that are not consistently addressed by prescription drugs and other conventional treatments.

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