November 7, 2019

Parkinson’s Disease is a complicated neurological illness, the causes of which are still not fully understood by the scientific community. Researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WiNPRC), however, recently made a discovery that could serve as a useful piece of the proverbial Parkinson’s puzzle.

The WiNPRC scientists conducted a study that found phosphorylated alpha-synuclein—a modified version of a protein common to nerve cells—in tissue samples from common marmosets with inflamed bowels. This type of chemical alteration is similar to abnormal protein deposits in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, which suggests that inflammation may play a key role in the development of the disease.

“It’s not entirely clear what its function is, but the typical version of the protein alpha-synuclein occurs normally in all neurons,” explained Marina Emborg, a professor of medical physics in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “A lot of neurodegenerative disorders seem to be related to the aggregation of certain proteins.”

In addition, people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disorders are more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s, further bolstering the evidence that inflammation and oxidative stress may be involved in the disease.

“The colon, the gastrointestinal tract overall, has this dense network of nervous tissue, the enteric nervous system, which is sometimes called the gut brain,” said Emborg. “This has lots of neurons, and those neurons—like all neurons—have alpha-synuclein.”

 “(This study) shows us the relationship between inflammation and Parkinson’s-like alpha-synuclein pathology,” she continued. “It doesn’t mean if you have inflammatory bowel disorder, you will get Parkinson’s. The development of a neurodegenerative disorder is multifactorial. But this could be a contributing factor.”

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