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2-min read

Parkinson's Disease Starts in the Gut Before Moving to the Brain, Study Reveals

The study is the latest in a growing body of work suggesting that the gut-brain axis plays a central role in the advancement of Parkinson's disease.

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Updated:June 27, 2019, 2:50 PM IST
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Parkinson's Disease Starts in the Gut Before Moving to the Brain, Study Reveals
The study is the latest in a growing body of work suggesting that the gut-brain axis plays a central role in the advancement of Parkinson's disease.
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Have you ever wondered what causes a person's hand to nervously twitch all the time, getting worse over time, or what caused a sudden cerebral palsy in a person, or even Tourette syndrome?

While the symptoms of Parkinson's disease develop gradually, a new study on mice at John Hopkins Medicine now suggests that the transmission of a toxic neuron-killing protein (α-syn) associated with Parkinson's disease originates among cells in the gut and travels up to the brain by hijacking the vagus nerve.

The results of the study were published in the journal Neuron, under the title, "Transneuronal Propagation of Pathologic α-Synuclein from the Gut to the Brain Models Parkinson’s Disease."

The study saw the research team injecting mice with abnormally folded alpha-synuclein into the gut which were then tracked where the proteins turned up. Researchers found the protein with the brainstem at three months and at six months they found it in other regions of the brain including the amygdala and part of the midbrain rich in dopamine.

The researchers opine that the process fits with the way markers of Parkinson's disease are distributed throughout the human brain at different stages in the disease.

They further saw a drop in dopamine levels in the brain followed by progressive loss of dopamine neurons for seven months. The mice also showed problems in their motor skills as well as memory, anxiety issues and behaviour problems.

According to the researchers, the results suggest that the misfolded alpha-synuclein travels to the brain via the vagus nerve, with the injected proteins triggering normal alpha-synuclein in the mice to become misfolded, resulting in a sort of domino effect that leads to misfolded proteins reaching the brain.

According to Ted Dawson, the co-author of the study, the findings "provide further proof of the gut's role in Parkinson's disease and give us a model to study the disease's progression from the start."

The researchers are hopeful that the discovery may eventually lead to more effective means of slowing down or even preventing the progression of Parkinson's with Dawson adding in a statement that it is an "exciting discovery" for the field and presents a target for "early intervention in the disease."

The study is the latest in a growing body of work suggesting that the gut-brain axis plays a central role in the advancement of Parkinson's disease.

The idea was first put forward by Heiko Braak of Germany's Johann Wolfgang Goethe University and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, who found that parts of the central nervous system that regulate the gut showed an atypical accumulation of pathological alpha-synuclein protein in patients with Parkinson's disease.

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