Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say they find evidence to suggest that Parkinson's disease originates from the intestinal tract before traveling up the body's neurons to the brain.
The study, published in Journal Neuron provides a new and more accurate model for testing future treatments for Parkinson's disease.
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The role of the gut in Parkinson's disease
"These findings provide further evidence of the role of the intestine in Parkinson's disease and provide us with a model for studying the disease's progression from the outset", Ted Dawson, MD, Ph.D., Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, Medical Xpress. Parkinson's disease is due to an accumulation of a misfolded protein called alpha-synuclein in brain cells. The structure of these proteins causes nerve tissues to be harmful and to die off. As the brain cells die, they weaken the patient's ability to move, think, and even feel emotions.
Recent findings based on mouse studies give even more weight on the already credible theory that misfolded alpha-synuclein can originate in the gut and then spread to the brain via the [vagusnerve – a group of fibers that transport brain signals to many of the body's organs, including the intestines.
The researchers say that the way in which misfolded alpha synuclein spreads in the brain of the mice greatly eliminates the way the disease spreads in Humane.
The Johns Hopkins Medicine team first injected the misfolded alpha-synuclein into the intestines of healthy mice and traced the progress of the protein – after several months the protein was found to be in the brain of the mouse, giving them symptoms that resembles Parkinson's disease in humans.
The team then repeated the injection of misfolded alpha synuclein, but this time in mice with a separate vagus nerve and another type of mouse that had been genetically engineered not to produce normal alpha synuclein. Both sets of mice showed no evidence of misfolded alpha synuclein in their brains.
Reason for optimism
Dr. Beckie Port, research director at Parkinson's UK, told the Guardian that the results are a major cause of optimism: "By identifying and stopping these changes before reaching the brain, we may be able to prevent the majority of Parkinson's symptoms ever appear and improve the lives of people who will be affected. "