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Neurosignals. 2008;16(1):52-62. Epub 2007 Dec 5.

Beer and bread to brains and beyond: can yeast cells teach us about neurodegenerative disease?

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Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


For millennia, humans have harnessed the astonishing power of yeast, producing such culinary masterpieces as bread, beer and wine. Therefore, in this new millennium, is it very farfetched to ask if we can also use yeast to unlock some of the modern day mysteries of human disease? Remarkably, these seemingly simple cells possess most of the same basic cellular machinery as the neurons in the brain. We and others have been using the baker's yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, as a model system to study the mechanisms of devastating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Huntington's, Alzheimer's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. While very different in their pathophysiology, they are collectively referred to as protein-misfolding disorders because of the presence of misfolded and aggregated forms of various proteins in the brains of affected individuals. Using yeast genetics and the latest high-throughput screening technologies, we have identified some of the potential causes underpinning these disorders and discovered conserved genes that have proven effective in preventing neuron loss in animal models. Thus, these genes represent new potential drug targets. In this review, I highlight recent work investigating mechanisms of cellular toxicity in a yeast Parkinson's disease model and discuss how similar approaches are being applied to additional neurodegenerative diseases.

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