Could tiny bacteria protect Parkinson's patients from deadly protein? Study has a gut feeling it's possible
Researchers have identified a probiotic bacteria which prevents the formation of toxic clumps that starve the brain of dopamine, a key chemical that coordinates movement.
A common gut bacteria or a probiotic may protect Parkinson's patients by slowing - and even reversing - the build-up of a protein associated with the condition, suggests a new study.
A probiotic named Bacillus Subtilis stops a protein from clumping together, found researchers. When this protein aggregates in the brain, it becomes toxic: they kill nerve cells that produce a key chemical called dopamine, the loss of which can lead to movement-related problems associated with the disease.
"The results from this study are exciting as they show a link between bacteria in the gut and the protein at the heart of Parkinson's, alpha-synuclein. Studies that identify bacteria that are beneficial in Parkinson's have the potential to not only improve symptoms but could even protect people from developing the condition in the first place," says Dr. Beckie Port, Research Manager at Parkinson's UK.
Parkinson's is a brain disorder and is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world. These patients suffer from movement disorders, which include rigid muscles, tremors, and changes in speech and gait, according to the National Institute on Aging. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year, says Parkinson's Foundation.
Currently, there is no treatment that can slow, reverse or protect someone from its progression.
Earlier studies have found a connection between gut bacteria and the development of Parkinson's disease. Around half the individuals diagnosed with the condition experience constipation, say experts. They add that constipation is a symptom, which often precedes the movement-related issues.
In 2003, a scientist named Heiko Braak and his colleagues proposed that Parkinson’s may actually originate in the gut rather than the brain. Since then, several studies in mice have found that the gut microbiome has an impact on movement symptoms.
"Changes in the microorganisms in the gut are believed to play a role in the initiation of Parkinson's in some cases and are linked to certain symptoms, that is why there is ongoing research into gut health and probiotics," Dr. Port explains.
In this study, researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee tested whether the probiotic rescued roundworms from the disease. So scientists created worms that produced the human version of the faulty protein, alpha-synuclein.
The experiment worked: the probiotic protected the worms by slowing down protein build-up while also clearing some of the already formed clumps. This improved the movement symptoms in the roundworms, says the study.
"The results provide an opportunity to investigate how changing the bacteria that make up our gut microbiome affects Parkinson's. The next steps are to confirm these results in mice, followed by fast-tracked clinical trials since the probiotic we tested is already commercially available," says lead researcher, Dr. Maria Doitsidou, from the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.
The study has been published in Cell Reports.