Blogging with Parkinson's

A personal perspective on Young Onset Parkinson's

Link Proven between Immune System and Parkinson’s


Payment is required to read the article in fullA new study, published by a group from the University of Florida in Nature Neuroscience on Monday (16 May 2011), demonstrates how chronic inflammation (caused, for example, by an immune reaction to influenza or other infections – also, one imagines, by hayfever, which is essentially an overreaction of the immune system to pollen) can lead to the deterioration of a particular area of the brain: the nigrostriatal tract, part of the basal ganglia motor loop. This is the area where neuronal loss is known to cause Parkinson’s.

In short, a direct link has been found between chronic inflammation of the brain and Parkinson’s Disease. Past research has suggested a link, but the nature of the link has not previously been established.

Dr. Todd Golde of the University of Florida says:

“Our data show that when a certain master protein that stimulates the immune system and antiviral response is expressed at high levels, it causes neuronal loss primarily in the nigrostriatal tract, thereby creating vulnerability to Parkinson’s and similar movement disorders.”

This “master protein”, known as interferon gamma, is an important regulatory part of the human immune system. In the Florida study, high levels of interferon gamma caused widespread brain inflammation, but only the nigrostriatal tract degenerated as a result.

From what I read in the University of Florida’s news article, it seems that this was an accidental finding; the researchers “had initially set out to understand interferon gamma’s role in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia”.

The mode of study is unclear in the article, and I have, as yet, been unable to determine what type of study was made; reference is made to a “model” of the brain, which initially made me think of computer modelling, but there is nothing to indicate that this is a theoretical finding. Other options include experiments involving tissues (which I think would be too limited for such a conclusion) or animal models. The latter is, I think, most likely. As the source of this news is the University that published the paper, it is possible that the writer was being delicate and deliberately omitting mention of animal experiments.


6 thoughts on “Link Proven between Immune System and Parkinson’s

  1. Interesting, although I’d comment that the article links Parkinson’s with inflammation of the *brain*, so suggesting that other inflammatory conditions (like hayfever) might be linked seems a bit of a stretch.

    • If there is inflammation anywhere in the body, it will distribute throughout the body, including the brain. The News post is brief but correct.

      This does, however, raise another major question, of how infections, or medications etc. can be blocked by the blood brain barrier, which is probably what you have in mind.

      There are attempts to use the Trojan method and hook up medications and viruses to enable them to penetrate the barrier.

      It is also highly likely that in the aging brain, the barrier is not as tight as it once was, so more unwanted items can invade.

      It is one of the many paradoxes of Parkinson’s that while a leaky BBB may allow undesirables in; sadly, it does not seem to work as well in facilitating their removal. Thus more “junk” collects and accumulates. Iron appears to be the prime example.

      I have a PPT etc. on all of this but have no idea how to communicate such a file via this medium?

    • You are, of course, quite right, Chris, and I take full responsibility for the stretched link. However, there was a study in 2006 that found a statistical link between hayfever sufferers and later development of Parkinson’s (ie that people with PD were more likely to have a history of hayfever than people in a control group). It was not a conclusive study.

      My link in the article above will take you to a previous post of mine,whence you can reach a contemporary New Scientist article on the study.

  2. Thank you for the most informative post. This elevates previous hunches into the realm of scientific fact.

  3. i think the disease is caused by low grade, chronic infection (and resulting inflammation) with some as-yet-undiscovered pathogen, as most diseases are.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Paula. I suppose the next stage is for some research team to discover that elusive pathogen – although I suspect that there may be more than one potential culprit when it comes to Parkinson’s. Mind you, I’m not sure that this study – as reported in the news article – completely rules out the possibility of there being some sort of autoimmune element. Let’s hope that the theories continue to be refined and that something useful comes out of them.

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