Newly discovered link between Parkinsons and IBD could lead to future treatment

  • Previous research has identified associations between Parkinsons disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • A new study examines the genetic link that underpins this relationship.
  • While confirming the role of some well-known genes, the scientists also identify new genes of interest.
  • The authors hope the discovery might help researchers identify better and more effective treatments for both conditions.

A recent study conducted by scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY, uncovers fresh details about the links between Parkinson’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

In agreement with previous work, they show that variants of a gene called LRRK2 are important in both conditions. They also identify new genes and pathways that Parkinson’s and IBD share.

The authors hope that uncovering these common biochemical pathways might provide new insights into potential treatments for both conditions.

Parkinson’s and the gut: What’s the link?

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects a region of the brain called the substantia nigra. As it progresses, there is a reduction in dopamine, which produces symptoms that include stiffness and tremors.

IBD, on the other hand, affects the digestive system, causing bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and constipation.

These two conditions appear unrelated on paper — one primarily affects the gut, while the other mostly impacts the brain.

However, experts have long known about links between Parkinson’s and the gut.

Medical News Today spoke with Daniel Truong, MD, a neurologist and medical director of the Truong Neuroscience Institute at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA.

Truong, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Parkinsonism and Related Disorders, was not involved in the current study.

“In the early 19th century, James Parkinson, after whom the disease is named, noted gastrointestinal symptoms,” he explained. “Constipation is one of the most common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s and can often precede the motor symptoms by several years.”

More recently, some research has shown that people with IBD have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s later in life. Scientists want to understand why.

How does the gut-brain axis affect Parkinson’s?

One of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s are so-called Lewy bodies in the brain. These are mostly formed of a protein called alpha-synuclein.

This protein buildup is a tell-tale sign of Parkinson’s, but it is unclearTrusted Source whether Lewy bodies themselves are toxic or the buildup is part of the body’s defense mechanisms.

Either way, some evidence suggests that these misfolded proteins may start their life in the gut in response to long-term inflammation and eventually move to the brain.

“The presence of alpha-synuclein in the gut’s nervous system supports the hypothesis that Parkinson’s pathology might start in the gut and spread to the brain via the vagus nerve,” Truong explained to MNT.

Beyond protein buildup, previous research has also noted associationsTrusted Source between alterations in a gene called LRRK2 and both IBD and Parkinson’s.

To date, LRRK2Trusted Source is the most well-established genetic link between the two conditions. It seems that different variants of this gene can either increaseTrusted Source or decrease the risk of both diseases.

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