Perhaps the way to treat Parkinson’s disease and other dysfunctions of the brain is by addressing bacteria in the gut.
That’s the intriguing hypothesis that emerged from research by scientists from the California Institute of Technology and other institutions. They found that the presence of gut bacteria in mice influenced whether they developed Parkinson’s. In their study, mice with gut bacteria developed the disease; those with sterile stomachs did not.
“The notion that these diseases may be impacted by pathology in the gut and not only in the brain is a radical departure from conventional research in neuroscience,” said Sarkis Mazmanian, lead researcher and CalTech professor, referring to Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders.
Axial Biotherapeutics of Boston, of which Mazmanian was scientific founder, says the findings represent an important breakthrough. Its CEO, David Donabedian, said the company would “focus on translating these discoveries into a unique class of microbial-targeted therapeutics that could become breakthrough therapies for a variety of underserved neurological diseases and disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.”
The importance of gut bacteria
While the study’s findings are exciting, they represent only a first step, Mazmanian cautioned.
“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,” he said.
In fact, the human gut is home to some 100 trillion bacteria cells, more than 10 times the cells in the human body. These gut bacteria are known to play an important role in the health of the body’s digestive system and the development of the immune system. Recent studies have linked certain gut microbiota and obesity.
The mystery of Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s is a degenerative brain disease that affects the body’s motor system. So far, science hasn’t found a cure, though medications can offer dramatic relief from the disease’s effects.
While early symptoms may be subtle, as the disease progresses, symptoms include:
- Tremors, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
- Rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and torso
- Slowness of movement
- Impaired balance and coordination.
Parkinson’s can also lead to depression, skin problems, disruptions in sleep, difficulty swallowing and speaking, and constipation.
To learn more
We’ve written separately about both Parkinson’s disease and gut bacteria.
You can read a primer on Parkinson’s disease from Sixty and Me, an online community dedicated to helping women over 60 live happy and healthy lives.
The European Food Information Council has published “The role of gut microorganisms in human health,” which describes the importance of bioorganisms in the human gut.
The study, “Gut Microbiota Regulate Motor Deficits and Neuroinflammation in a Model of Parkinson’s Disease,” was published in the journal Cell.
Axial Biotherapeutics published a press release describing the findings and promising to try to develop a class of “microbial-targeted therapeutics” that can be used to fight Parkinson’s, autism and Alzheimer’s disease.
ResearchGate published a Q&A about the study with co-author Timothy Sampson of the California Institute of Technology.