Currently there are 10 million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s Disease, in the U.S. alone there are 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Parkinson’s affects 50% more men than it does women with the average age of onset at 60. Like many diseases Parkinson’s is thought to be incurable but with the breakthroughs we are having every day in science it is not surprising that someone may have found the link to Parkinson’s through one of our many stomach microbes. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that we know slowly, or immediately, deteriorates the Neurons in the brain leading to loss of motor control and a decrease in the dopamine levels.
Gut bacteria’s may have a link to Parkinson’s Disease in that Gut Bacteria, or a lack-thereof, tends to lead to Parkinson’s or Parkinson’s like symptoms. One key factor as to why they looked at Gut Bacteria instead of continuing to search the brain of patients for clues, is because many Parkinson’s patients have many Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation precede the major ailments of Parkinson’s. Now this is not saying that because you get constipated you have a higher risk for Parkinson’s the scientist in question merely saw the link between major constipation found in Parkinson’s patients.
First scientist begin with raising three different set of Genetically Modified Mice, in different sets of cages, with Parkinson’s like disease either in normal cages, non-sterile cages, or in a germ-free environment. The mice in germ-free environments displayed fewer motor deficiencies and reduced accumulation of mis-folded proteins, specifically the Alpha-Synuclein Protein found in Neurons, protein aggregates in brain regions involved in controlling movement. When put through a test of moving across a beam, removing adhesives from their nose, and scaling down a pole these mice had an almost normal level or performance when compared to mice without the Parkinson’s like disease.
Contrasting that, the same mice that had been raised in Germ-Free environments reacted poorly to experiments with microbial metabolites called “short-chain fatty acids” or when they received fecal transplants of stomach microbes from patients with Parkinson’s disease the poor reaction lead to worse motor symptoms then when not experimented with these injections.
Now when comparing the two against each other the scientist drew the conclusion that stomach microbes deteriorate motor symptoms by creating the environment that possibly increases the risk of increased accumulation of mis-folded protein aggregates.
I would be falling into the Texas Sharpshooter problem if I did not state that in this study stomach microbes cooperated with a specific genetic factor to influence the risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. The scientist used specific genetic mouse models that would summarize motor symptoms through the Alpha-Synuclein accumulation found in brains of Parkinson’s Patients. Also genetically normal mice, that is mice who had not been raised specifically for the Parkinson like diseases, did not develop the same motor symptoms the other mice had when receiving the fecal transplants from patients. There was also the fact that confounding variables such as pesticide exposure also played a role in the disease.
The findings of the experiment suggest a couple of things, first that probiotic and prebiotic therapies have a huge potential to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Contrasting to that the idea of using antibiotics or fecal microbe transplants are not a viable therapy option at this time but might be in the future with more research. Sampson, one of the researchers, is quoted with saying “Long-term, high-strength antibiotic use, like we utilized in this study, comes with significant risk to humans, such as defects in immune and metabolic function… Gut bacteria provide immense physiological benefit, and we do not yet have the data to know which particular species are problematic or beneficial in Parkinson’s Disease.”
Finally we come to the major conclusion that the most critical part of future experiments is to find specifically which pathogenic microbes contribute to a higher risk of having Parkinson’s later in life. On top of this the researchers have stated that the next major step would be to look for the bacteria that is specific in causing the deterioration of motor usage in patients allowing scientist to create a medicine that halts or greatly decreases the onset of Parkinson’s Disease.
We are still years away from finding a cure or even a medicine to combat Parkinson’s but there is hope as this was a huge first step in the right direction. So always hold on to the hope that maybe not in our lifetime but in our children’s lifetimes there will be a preventative medicine that corrections the gene for causing folding in proteins that cause Parkinson’s.