Category Archives: Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease: Origins in the Gut?

A new study published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, investigates the role of the vagus nerve in Parkinson’s disease–suggesting that a resection of the nerve might stop or delay the spreading of Parkinson’s disease.

Historically cited as the pneumogastric nerve, the theory suggests that the vagus nerve might serve as the channel for transporting the protein alpha-synuclein from stomach to brain, where it forms ‘telltale clumps in Parkinson’s sufferers.’

If accurate, the hypothesis points to a clear origin of the neurodegenerative brain disorder: the gut. Moreover, it would explain and confirm the critical importance of the enigmatic protein, whose exact role in Parkinson’s has previously not been well understood.  Perhaps most importantly, it would point to a potential way to block the development and progression of Parkinson’s: a surgical procedure known as a vagotomy, which is generally used in people with severe gastric ulcers, and involves cutting the vagus nerve in order to completely sever the ‘pathway from gut to brain.’

The objective of the published research was to examine whether vagotomy decreases the risk of Parkinson’s. Using comprehensive data from nationwide Swedish registers, the authors conducted a matched-cohort study of 9,430 vagotomized patients and 377,200 non-vagotomized patients. The researchers were aiming to find if the process of a vagotomy—in addition to a treatment for peptic ulcers—might lower the risk of Parkinson’s by blocking the route of alpha-synuclein to the brain.

After analyzing the data and assessing the subset of patients who received the most drastic version of the procedure, a truncal vagotomy—which removes the vagus nerve from contact with the liver, stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, small intestine, and proximal colon—they found that Parkinson’s disease was 22% less common than it was amongst people in the non-vagotomized comparison group.

While this latest study delivers clear epidemiological evidence to support the theory that Parkinson’s originates in the gut, previous studies further indicate that this may indeed be true. Alpha-synuclein protein clumps have been detected in the guts of patients with very early-onset Parkinson’s; in mice who had alpha-synuclein from the brains of human Parkinson’s patients implanted in their intestinal walls, researchers have seen movement of those proteins in the vagus nerve.

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The Path to Parkinson’s Disease

Janet Reno, the country’s first female Attorney General, passed away yesterday from complications of Parkinson’s disease, at age 78.

According to statistics from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, approximately 1 million people in the United States are affected by the disease. While there is no test for the disorder, and no concrete, tangible cause, scientists uniformly believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors lead to Parkinson’s.

The disease is a progressive and chronic movement disorder, which involves the malfunction and gradual death of the brain’s vital nerve cells (neurons). The neurons that produce dopamine—the chemical that communicates with the segment of the brain that controls coordination and movement—regularly decrease; as the levels of dopamine lessen, a person becomes unable to normally control movement. As the symptoms worsen, the primary motor signs of Parkinson’s include body tremors, bradykinesia/slowness of movement, rigidity, and severe postural instability.

While the NIH has not yet identified a cure for Parkinson’s, scientists and doctors have found several ways to help patients cope with and alleviate symptoms, including various medications that help trigger the brain and create more dopamine, and deep brain stimulation. A recent study conducted at Harvard found that patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s demonstrated significant improvement after they had transplanted tissue from fetal dopamine cells into their brains.

There is a remarkably strong correlation between ageing and Parkinson’s; most clinical research suggests that advancing age is the biggest risk factor. As the second most prevalent age-related neurodegenerative disease, after Alzheimer’s, it is incontrovertible that the social, economic, and public health impacts that result from Parkinson’s will continue to increase directly alongside the population’s longevity.

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