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Studies in Mice Show Parkinson’s May Start in the Gut

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For a disease that affects approximately 70 000 Australians, and 10 million worldwide, Parkinson’s Disease (PD) has a lot to answer for. But a new study with mice predisposed with PD suggests that not only does the neurodegenerative disease have its origins in the brain, but that it may also have a biological relationship with gut microbes.

Science gif
SCIENCE! Source.

Reported in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Cellthe research states:

“The intestinal microbiota influence neurodevelopment, modulate behavior, and contribute to neurological disorders.”

This discovery may also shed some light on a possible explanation why most patients who develop PD experience gut-related symptoms up to 10 years before they notice tremors.

Graph showing Parkinson's Disease microbiota
Graphical abstract from ‘Cell’ journal. Source.

Patients suffering from PD—for reasons unknown—accumulate alpha-synuclein fibers  that ultimately damage neurons in the brain. Alpha-synuclein is found in the brain, heart and other muscle tissues, where other studies suggest, according to the U.S National Library of Medicine:

“…help regulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is critical for controlling the start and stop of voluntary and involuntary movements.”

In the Cell study, researchers used special mice that were genetically modified to over-produce alpha synuclein fibres, and were either raised in sterile or normal caged environments.

Microscopic gut bacteria.
Microscopic gut bacteria. Source.

Mice raised in the sterile environment, showed significantly lower amounts of the protein and showed fewer motor-deficits. Mice raised in the normal environment showed expected symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, but were then given antibiotics targeting gut microbes that reduced their symptoms; revealing a possible correlation with the disease and gut microbes.

Lastly, researchers injected gut bacteria from the stomachs of paitents suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, to the germ-free mice, resulting in the mice rapidly deteriorating and showing symptoms of the disease.

Dr Filip Scheperjans, a neurologist at Helsinki University Hospital who studies the correlation between microorganisms in Parkinson’s disease, admits the study is a breakthrough for science, but reveals the results,

“…need further studies to find out how well they translate to the human case.”

Although a greater amount of study needs to be made in how gut microbes play a role in the development of PD, it edges to science world closer to understanding the disease, and how science in the future could possibly hinder PD symptoms, or better still, extinguish it altogether.