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Parkinson’s Disease May Have Something To Do With The Gut

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Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have discovered something new about Parkinson’s in a series of animal experiments, suggesting that the dreaded disease might be caused by bacteria in the gut.

The results may eventually lead to new methods of treating Parkinson’s that focus on killing bacteria in the gut, or through probiotics. Experts have called the findings an “exciting new avenue of study.”

Parkinson’s disease happens when the brain is progressively damaged, symptoms of which include tremors and difficulty controlling motion, the BBC reports.

The research team used mice that were genetically modified to develop Parkinson’s, producing high levels of alpha-synuclein – the protein associated with brain damage in Parkinson’s patients. Only the mice with bacteria in their guts developed symptoms, while the other mice stayed healthy.

More tests showed that transplanting gut bacteria from Parkinson’s patients to mice created more symptoms than bacteria that was transplanted from healthy people.

Timothy Sampson, one of the researchers, said, “This was the ‘eureka’ moment, the mice were genetically identical, the only difference was the presence or absence of gut microbiota.” He added,

Now we were quite confident that gut bacteria regulate, and are even required for, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The scientists think that the bacteria are producing chemicals that over-stimulate parts of the brain, initiating damage.

Sarkis Mazmanian, one of the researchers, said, “We have discovered for the first time a biological link between the gut microbiome and Parkinson’s disease. More generally, this research reveals that a neurodegenerative disease may have its origins in the gut and not only in the brain as had been previously thought.” Mazmanian explained further, “The discovery that changes in the microbiome may be involved in Parkinson’s disease is a paradigm shift and opens entirely new possibilities for treating patients.”

Parkinson’s is an incurable disease.

These findings need to be replicated and confirmed in human patients, and the team is hoping that the drugs that work to cure illnesses in the digestive system can become treatments for Parkinson’s. There are billions of bacteria residing in the human digestive system – most of them healthy, and important in the body’s normal functions – so eliminating them all is not an option.

The study was published in the journal Cell.

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