In a new study, researchers found that a gut infection can lead to symptoms resembling Parkinson’s disease.
This finding extends recent work suggesting that Parkinson’s disease has a major immune component. It may help develop new treatments of the disease.
The research was done by a team from the University of Montreal.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by the progressive death of a subset of neurons in the brain, called dopaminergic neurons.
This loss of neurons is responsible for the typical motor symptoms in many patients, including tremors and rigidity.
But what causes the death of the dopaminergic neurons is still unknown.
The number of Parkinson’s disease patients in the world more than doubled between 1990 and 2016, from 2.5 million to 6.1 million.
Scientists predict that the number of patients will double over the next 30 years, which means more than 12 million patients worldwide by about 2050.
Previous research has shown that about 10% of cases of Parkinson’s disease are due to mutations in genes coding for proteins such as PINK1 and Parkin.
Patients with these mutations develop Parkinson’s at a much earlier age.
In mice, the same mutations do not generate disease symptoms, and this leads many researchers to conclude that mice may not be suitable for the study of Parkinson’s.
In the new study, the team found a gut infection can lead to symptoms in mice resembling Parkinson’s disease. These mice had no risky genetic mutations.
The team found infection with bacteria that cause mild intestinal symptoms in young mice was sufficient to trigger PD-like symptoms in these animals later in life.
They suggest there is a link between gut infection and Parkinson’s disease. Rather than dying from toxin accumulation, the killing of dopaminergic neurons involves immune cells.
The team also found that The Parkinson’s-like symptoms could be temporarily reversed by the administration of L-DOPA, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s patients.
The researchers say that some forms of Parkinson’s disease are an autoimmune disease likely to start in the gut several years before patients notice any motor symptoms.
This means a window of time exists for preventive treatment of the disease.
The leaders of the study include Michel Desjardins and Louis-Eric Trudeau.
The study is published in Nature.
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