Mutations in the parkin gene are a common cause of autosomal recessive early-onset parkinsonism. Parkin functions as an E3 ubiquitin ligase where it can polyubiquitinate a number of its protein substrates, thus targeting them for degradation by the 26 S proteasomal complex. Recent studies have demonstrated that alternative modes of parkin-mediated ubiquitination may serve other non-degradative regulatory roles. In addition, parkin appears to function as a multipurpose neuroprotectant in a number of toxic paradigms. Coupled with these observations, parkin may integrate other gene products associated with parkinsonism, including α-synuclein, LRRK2 (leucine-rich repeat kinase 2), DJ-1 and PINK1 [PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome 10)-induced putative kinase 1], into a common biochemical pathway of potential relevance to disease pathogenesis. Parkin therefore represents a unique multifaceted ubiquitin ligase consistent with an important housekeeping role in maintaining the integrity or survival of dopaminergic neurons.

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