Opportunistic gut pathogens associated with likelihood of Parkinson’s disease

June 25, 2020

Parkinson’s disease (PD), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, has been linked to the gut many a time, and a new study by neurologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), US, has identified a type of overabundant pathogen in the guts of PD patients which is thought to influence their disease. The neurologists looked at some 520 cases of PD and more than 300 controls – making the novel finding up to be the largest microbiome-wide association study of PD to date.

Previous studies have uncovered some interesting connections between the brains of sufferers and the bacteria in their bellies: one study demonstrated how misfolded proteins could travel to the brain through the vagus nerve while another highlighted how altered neurons that regulate the digestive system may affectthe early developments of PD.

This time the neurologists focused on select opportunistic pathogensfound in overabundance in the guts of PD patients. These bacteria take advantage of holes in the body’s defenses, such as a compromised immune system, to drive infections. In doing so, the neurologists found three clusters of bacteria that present in irregular concentrations – two of these had been hinted at before, with the new study confirming that a type of microbe that produces short-chain fatty acids was present in lower numbers, while another that metabolises carbohydrates was present in higher numbers, in the affected gut of PD patients.

“The exciting question is whether these are pathogens capable of triggering PD, or are they irrelevant to PD but able to penetrate the gut and grow because the gut lining is compromised in PD,” said UAB’s Professor Haydeh Payami. However, the neurologists caution that the findings do not yet point to the exact role of the microorganisms in PD.

This study echoes an idea from the early 2000s that the onset of PD is related to the gut. At the time, German scientist Heiko Braak published a string of studies proposing that pathogens in gut make their way to the brain via the nervous system.


Category: Education, Features

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