In a new study, researchers have found decisive evidence that Parkinson’s disease, which attacks the brain, actually might originate from the gut of the patients.
They saw the disease migrate from the gut to the brain and heart of laboratory rats.
The research was conducted by a team from Aarhus University.
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by slowly destroying the brain due to the accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein and the subsequent damage to nerve cells.
The disease leads to shaking, muscle stiffness, and characteristic slow movements of sufferers.
In the new research, the researchers used genetically modified laboratory rats which over-express large amounts of the alpha-synuclein protein.
These rats have an increased propensity to accumulate harmful varieties of alpha-synuclein protein and to develop symptoms similar to those seen in Parkinson’s patients.
The researchers initiated the process by injecting alpha-synuclein into the small intestines of the rats.
The experiment was intended to demonstrate that the protein would subsequently spread in a predictable fashion to the brain.
After two months, the team saw that the alpha-synuclein had traveled to the brain via the peripheral nerves with the involvement of precisely those structures known to be affected in connection with Parkinson’s disease in humans.
After four months, the magnitude of the pathology was even greater. It was actually pretty striking to see how quickly it happened.
The team explains that patients with Parkinson’s disease often already have significant damage to their nervous system at the time of diagnosis, but that it is actually possible to detect pathological alpha-synuclein in the gut up to 20 years before diagnosis.
The research y also showed that the harmful alpha-synuclein not only travel from the intestines to the brain but also to the heart.
Previous studies have known that Parkinson patients have extensive damage to the nervous system of the heart and that the damage occurs early on.
The present study shows that the heart is damaged very fast, even though the pathology started in the intestine.
One author of the study is Per Borghammer, who is a professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University.
The study is published in the scientific journal Acta Neuropathologica.
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