Researchers pinpoint where Parkinson’s disease may originate from

Parkinson's: What is it and what are the symptoms?

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Parkinson’s disease may begin in the gut and spread to the brain, a new study led by experts at the University of Surrey has warned. The researchers found that more than 30 percent of the bacteria in the guts of people living with the condition were different to those without the disorder. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition in which parts of the brain become increasingly damaged — losing nerve cells — over the course of many years. According to Parkinson’s UK, some 145,000 people in the UK lived with a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2020, a figure expected to hit 172,000 by the end of the decade as the population grows and ages.

Paper author and AI multiomics expert Dr Ayse Demirkan of the University of Surrey: said: “Impairments and deaths due to Parkinson’s disease are increasing faster than any other neurological disorder worldwide.”

In fact, she noted, “diagnosed cases [have been] more than doubling in the last 25 years. This is very concerning as there is no known cure. However, the more we learn about the causes of the disease, the more informed we can be in developing new treatments and, eventually, a cure.

“Previous research in this field has indicated a possible link between gut bacteria and the disease — however, these studies have been small and used dated methodologies.”

In their study, Dr Demirkan and her colleagues recruited 724 individuals, 490 of whom had Parkinson’s disease and the remainder of whom were neurologically healthy. Each patient provided not only medical information about themselves, but also a stool sample for analysis — generating the largest dataset of such information collected to date.

Analysis of the faecal samples revealed that the bacteria, genes and biological pathways within the gut of people with Parkinson’s disease differed by more than 30 percent from those without the condition.

One difference, for example, centres around the bacterial species Bifidobacterium dentium, which is known to cause anaerobic infections such as brain abscesses.

The team found that B. dentium levels were elevated seven-fold in the stool samples of the subjects with Parkinson’s disease.

In contrast, analysis also revealed a 7.5-fold reduction in species of bacteria like Roseburia intestinalis, which are normally found only in healthy colons.

Constipation, the researchers noted, is a well-recognised symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The study also identified a cluster of infection-causing bacteria — specifically Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumonia and Klebsiella quasipneumoniae — that also appear to be elevated in those with Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Dermirkan said: “The make-up of the gut bacteria of those with Parkinson’s consists of an overabundance of pathogens and bacteria that may prompt immune responses among multiple other mechanisms.”

These mechanisms, she continued, involve “various bacterial metabolic pathways, showing us a complex facade of the disorder in the gut.

“However, our current research is not designed to answer whether the bacteria itself is the initial cause of the disease, some may also be a consequence of the disease, or may be even influenced by the genetic makeup of the individual.”

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Parkinson’s disease, as noted, does not currently have a cure but there are different avenues of treatments and medications that can be taken to control symptoms which can include a tremor, muscle stiffness and decreased mobility. 

Deep Brain Stimulation surgery is also an option for candidates deemed suitable, and requires electrodes to be strategically placed in the brain which help minimise symptoms. These are controlled by a pacemaker which is implanted in the person’s chest.

Currently, there is a wide range of research being undertaken to try and identify why Parkinson’s affects some people – and – with that a race to try and find a cure.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.

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