Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder marked by tremors and muscular rigidity that affects more than 10 million people worldwide. Almost 200 years has passed since Parkinson’s disease was first identified as an observable medical condition. Fast forward to today, and we still do not know what the exact cause of this debilitating condition is.
However, we did make some progress in identifying some risk factors associated with Parkinson’s. In a recent study published by the California Institute of Technology, researchers have identified a new possible cause of Parkinson’s disease. In their study, they found a link between gut bacteria and how the brain functions.
By taking stool samples from patients with Parkinson’s disease and then transplanting it into sterile mice, researchers were able to produce the symptoms of the disease on a previously healthy subject. Researchers hypothesize that this may be due to a protein called alpha-synuclein (αSyn). This protein is present in both the brain and the gut of patients with Parkinson’s disease and may play a key role in the development of the disease.
This study seems to confirm what other researchers have noticed long ago. Gut problems have always been associated with Parkinson’s. Constipation, ulcers, and bloating are significantly more frequent in those suffering from the disease, and this points to a bigger role of gut problems in the disease pathophysiology. In fact, a previous study has shown that those who had their vagus nerve severed for the treatment of gastric ulcer experienced a decrease in the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s. This is not that surprising since 70 percent of the peripheral nervous system innervates the gut. With this in mind, the relationship between the nervous system and the gastrointestinal system may not be as far from each other than we initially thought, and with the mounting evidence of their strong link to each other, the importance of understanding this relationship has now sparked a lot of interest.
The research is promising but there is still a lot of work to be done. Mice experiments may not translate to human test subjects, but the researchers are optimistic. Hopefully, once this hypothesis is proven and further understood, this will usher the way for more effective treatments for Parkinson’s disease that are aimed at modifying gut bacteria instead of being directed to the brain.
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