Some experts believe Parkinson’s Disease starts in the gut. A new study that shows toxic proteins linked to Parkinson’s Disease migrate from the gut to the brain supports this theory.
Since 2003, several experts have held a theory that Parkinson's Disease starts in the gut. The theory was first proposed by a German scientist called Heiko Braak, and is supported by the fact that symptoms associated with digestion and smell occur very early on in the disease. There have been many vocal opponents of this theory; however, researchers from the Lund University in Sweden have made a breakthrough that may hush those naysayers once and for all.
Parkinson’s Disease is caused by a progressive deterioration of nerve cells in a specific area of the brain. When functioning normally, these nerve cells produce dopamine, a vital chemical that coordinates movement. In Parkinson’s Disease, clumps of protein (called Lewy bodies) accumulate within these nerve cells, forcing the displacement of other components in the cell, and aiding in its destruction.
The main protein in Lewy Bodies is alpha-synuclein. Previous studies have found deposits of alpha-synuclein in the guts of people with Parkinson’s Disease but not in healthy people or people with other gut disorders. In this study, University scientists were able to show how this protein was transported from the gut to the brain after it was injected into the intestines of experimental rats.
This finding paves the way for new treatment opportunities for Parkinson’s Disease. Ones that can hopefully can slow or stop the disease at an earlier stage.
Holmqvist S, Chutna O, Bousset L, et al. Direct evidence of Parkinson pathology spread from the gastrointestinal tract to the brain in rats. Acta Neuropathologica 2014;128(6):805-820