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Molecular mechanisms underlying Parkinson's disease

   MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit

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  Prof Dario Alessi  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

There is great need for improved understanding of the mechanistic biology underlying Parkinson’s disease. Such knowledge will help with development of new drugs that slow or even halt the progression of the disease. The discovery that hyper-activating mutations in a protein kinase termed LRRK2 causes Parkinson’s, offers the prospect of elaborating new, potentially disease-modifying treatments (1, 2). Recent advances point towards LRRK2 controlling autophagy and lysosome function by phosphorylating a group of Rab GTPase proteins and regulating their ability to bind cognate effector proteins (3). In recent studies we have started to explore how LRRK2 is regulated and have discovered several signalling components such as VPS35 (4), Rab29 (5, 6), and other Rabs (7) strikingly controls LRRK2 pathway activity. We have recently identified a poorly studied protein phosphatase termed PPM1H that counteracts LRRK2 signalling by selectively dephosphorylating Rab proteins (8, 9).

The goal of this studentship is to dissect the molecular mechanism by which LRRK2 is regulated and work out how this is linked to Parkinson's disease. This project will provide training expertise in the state-of-the-art biochemistry, molecular biology, cell signalling, mass spectrometry, data analysis, scientific collaboration as well as statistics, communication, written and oral presentation. This project would also offer opportunities to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies as well as clinician’s evaluating LRRK2 inhibitors for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The studentship provides an opportunity to gain valuable research experience in working at the forefront of an area medical research with great unmet medical need.

At the MRC PPU, as well as the possibility of a PhD in one particular lab, we offer the possibility of two 4.5-month rotations in labs of their choice. A range of other projects from MRC PPU scientists are advertised on this website. Rotations provide valuable experience and help with deciding on the choice of PhD project and research group.

How to Apply

Please send a CV with contact details of three referees to and a cover letter explaining why you have chosen to apply to MRC PPU to [Email Address Removed]. The closing date for applications is 18th November. Applications from overseas students are welcome.


1. D. R. Alessi, E. Sammler, LRRK2 kinase in Parkinson's disease. Science 360, 36-37 (2018).
2. A. F. Kalogeropulou et al., Impact of 100 LRRK2 variants linked to Parkinson's Disease on kinase activity and microtubule binding. Biochem J, (2022).
3. D. Waschbüsch et al., Structural Basis for Rab8a Recruitment of RILPL2 via LRRK2 Phosphorylation of Switch 2. Structure 28, 406-417.e406 (2020).
4. R. Mir et al., The Parkinson's disease VPS35[D620N] mutation enhances LRRK2-mediated Rab protein phosphorylation in mouse and human. The Biochemical journal 475, 1861-1883 (2018).
5. E. Purlyte et al., Rab29 activation of the Parkinson's disease-associated LRRK2 kinase. EMBO J 37, 1-18 (2018).
6. H. Zhu, F. Tonelli, D. R. Alessi, J. Sun, Structural basis of human LRRK2 membrane recruitment and activation. bioRxiv, 2022.2004.2026.489605 (2022).
7. E. G. Vides et al., A Feed-forward Pathway Drives LRRK2 kinase Membrane Recruitment and Apparent Activation. bioRxiv, 2022.2004.2025.489459 (2022).
8. K. Berndsen, D. R. Alessi, Assay for quantifying PPM1H phosphatase activity towards LRRK2 phosphorylated Rab proteins and peptides using the Malachite Green method., (2021).
9. K. Berndsen et al., PPM1H phosphatase counteracts LRRK2 signaling by selectively dephosphorylating Rab proteins. eLife 8, e50416 (2019).
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