Discovering the cause or etiology of diseases such as Parkinson’s is essential to finding a treatment to prevent it. There are more and more advances in this field. And one of the latest ones is that Parkinson’s could be an autoimmune disease.
Evidence of autoimmunity in Parkinson’s
Research by Columbia University and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in the United States has found evidence of the role that autoimmunity plays in Parkinson’s disease. According to the study, the death of the neurons that cause this disease could be prevented by therapies that dampen the response of the immune system.
The researchers claim that two fragments of a protein that appears in the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s, alpha-synuclein, can activate T cells. T cells play a role in autoimmune responses. Apparently, dopamine neurons, which play a role in the disease, are vulnerable to autoimmune attacks. This occurs because they have some proteins on the cell surface. These proteins help the immune system to recognise foreign substances. This confuses the T cells, which identify the neurons damaged by Parkinson’s as invaders and attack them.
In the study, the researchers exposed 67 blood samples from patients with the disease and 36 healthy controls to alpha-synuclein fragments and other proteins found in neurons. In the blood of the controls, not much cellular immune activity was observed. However, in the patients’ samples, the T cells showed a strong response to the protein fragments.
In particular, the response of the patients’ immune systems was associated with a common form of a gene. This gene is found in the immune system. This may explain why many people with Parkinson’s carry this genetic variant. In addition, according to the researchers, the autoimmunity of Parkinson’s arises when neurons cannot get rid of abnormal alpha-synuclein. This protein begins to accumulate because the process of protein recycling decreases with age and certain diseases. Since the immune system had not identified it, it was considered to be a pathogen to be attacked.
Advances to prevent the symptoms of Parkinson’s
These findings suggest a possible treatment. In this case, immunotherapy could be used to increase the tolerance of the immune system to this protein. This could help improve or prevent the worsening of symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s. It could also provide a diagnostic test to identify the individuals most at risk. And those who are in the early stages of the disease.
This research, together with other work, such as that being carried out at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which has found that the disease could originate in the bowels and spread to the brain through the vagus nerve, shows that progress is gradually being made in improving knowledge about a disease that affects more than six million people around the world.