A Sweden based study has found that Parkinson’s Disease (PD) could be an autoimmune disease that originates in the gut.
PD is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects the nervous system, causing uncontrollable shaking in the body. As the disease advances patients begin to find basic tasks like walking, talking and feeding themselves exceedingly difficult. Currently, it is considered incurable.
The study titled The vermiform appendix impacts the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease has linked the development of PD to the accumulation of aggregated α-synuclein, a neuronal protein whose exact function is unknown. However, it is known that the protein can accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract, specifically the appendix (which lies at the junction between the large and small intestine).
Collecting two separate datasets involving over 1.6 million individuals, researchers observed that chances for developing PD drop by 19 percent if the appendix is removed early in life, decades before the onset of the disease. It should be noted that medical science has not yet determined the function of the appendix, with some researchers believing it serves no purpose at all.
However, Viviane Labrie, an assistant professor at Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan and senior author of the study does not agree, saying “despite having a reputation as largely unnecessary, the appendix actually plays a major part in our immune systems, in regulating the makeup of our gut bacteria and now, as shown by our work, in Parkinson’s Disease.”
It should be pointed out that the study did find α-synuclein reservoirs in the bodies of all persons tested, including healthy individuals. This means it alone cannot be held responsible for the onset of PD. One possibility is that PD manifests itself when the protein escapes the appendix and travels up the vagus nerve, which links the gut to the brain stem.
“There has to be some other mechanism or confluence of events that allows the appendix to affect Parkinson’s risk,” said Labrie. “That’s what we plan to look at next – which factor or factors tip the scale in favour of Parkinson’s.”