Scientists discover link between gut microbes and Parkinson's disease

Medical researchers in California have made a breakthrough in understanding Parkinson's disease. The discovery was made while performing animal research and a direct link between the brain disorder and a bacteria living in the gut has been found. The scientists hope that the discovery could someday lead to new treatments for the disease by focusing drugs on killing the gut bacteria or via the use of probiotics.

Parkinson's disease causes progressive damage to the brain leaving people suffering from the condition with tremor and difficulty moving. The scientists performed the research using mice that were genetically programmed to develop Parkinson's disease via very high production levels of a protein called alpha-synuclein. That protein is associated with the type of brain damage that Parkinson's patients suffer from.

The scientists discovered that transplanting bacteria from Parkinson's sufferers into the mice led to more symptoms than if the bacteria was taken from healthy people. Dr Timothy Sampson, one of the researchers at the California Institute of Technology, said, "This was the 'eureka' moment, the mice were genetically identical, the only difference was the presence or absence of gut microbiota. Now we were quite confident that gut bacteria regulate, and are even required for, the symptoms of Parkinson's disease."

Researchers believe that the bacteria are releasing chemicals that over-activate parts of the brain leading to the damage seen in Parkinson's sufferers. The bacteria breaks down fiber into short-chain fatty acids and the team believes that these chemicals trigger immune cells in the brain that leads to the brain damage and Parkinson's symptoms.

Dr Sarkis Mazmanian said, "We have discovered for the first time a biological link between the gut microbiome and Parkinson's disease. More generally, this research reveals that a neurodegenerative disease may have its origins in the gut and not only in the brain as had been previously thought. The discovery that changes in the microbiome may be involved in Parkinson's disease is a paradigm shift and opens entirely new possibilities for treating patients."

There is currently no cure for Parkinson's Disease.