SEP 29, 2020 6:10 AM PDT

What We Call Parkinson's Disease May Actually be Two Distinct Disorders

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Researchers have used imaging tools to show that Parkinson's disease may actually be two different diseases, one that starts in the brain while the other begins in the intestines. This can explain why patients can report very different symptoms and may improve therapeutic options for people that suffer from Parkinson's. The findings have been reported in the journal Brain.

Image credit: Pixabay

"With the help of advanced scanning techniques, we've shown that Parkinson's disease can be divided into two variants, which start in different places in the body. For some patients, the disease starts in the intestines and spreads from there to the brain through neural connections. For others, the disease starts in the brain and spreads to the intestines and other organs such as the heart," said study author Per Borghammer of Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark.

In Parkinson's disease patients, the brain degenerates as a dangerous protein called alpha-synuclein accumulates. The nerve damage disrupts movement in patients.

PET and MRI imaging tools were used to assess Parkinson's disease patients as well as people who were thought to be at high risk for developing it. The work showed that there was damage in the dopamine systems in the brains of some patients prior to intestine or heart damage. In other patients, there was damage in the intestine's and heart's nerve networks before any damage appeared in the dopamine system of the brain. The findings, said Borghammer, challenge our understanding of the disease.

"Until now, many people have viewed the disease as relatively homogeneous and defined it based on the classical movement disorders. But at the same time, we've been puzzled about why there was such a big difference between patient symptoms. With this new knowledge, the different symptoms make more sense and this is also the perspective in which future research should be viewed," he said.

The scientists have referred to the two types as body-first or brain-first Parkinson's disease. They suggested that the microbiota may be of particular interest when it comes to body-first.

"It has long since been demonstrated that Parkinson's patients have a different microbiome in the intestines than healthy people, without us truly understanding the significance of this. Now that we're able to identify the two types of Parkinson's disease, we can examine the risk factors and possible genetic factors that may be different for the two types. The next step is to examine whether, for example, body-first Parkinson's disease can be treated by treating the intestines with feces transplantation or in other ways that affect the microbiome," explained Borghammer.

"The discovery of brain-first Parkinson's is a bigger challenge. This variant of the disease is probably relatively symptom-free until the movement disorder symptoms appear and the patient is diagnosed with Parkinson's. By then the patient has already lost more than half of the dopamine system, and it will therefore be more difficult to find patients early enough to be able to slow the disease," Borghammer noted.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Aarhus University, Brain

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
NOV 16, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
How Gut Microbes Deactivate a Common Diabetes Drug
NOV 16, 2020
How Gut Microbes Deactivate a Common Diabetes Drug
Metformin is a frequently prescribed type 2 diabetes treatment but its effects can vary significantly. In some patients ...
DEC 03, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Health Issues from Spaceflight Caused by Mitochondria
DEC 03, 2020
Health Issues from Spaceflight Caused by Mitochondria
Spending an extended time in space is known to impact various aspects of health, from muscle and bone regeneration to th ...
DEC 09, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Weed-Killer Causes Epigenetic Changes That May Predict Disease Risk
DEC 09, 2020
Weed-Killer Causes Epigenetic Changes That May Predict Disease Risk
Glyphosate is a common weed-killing chemical used in agriculture, and it may be best known as the active ingredient in R ...
DEC 20, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Chromatin Doesn't Behave Like a Liquid or Solid - It's a Gel
DEC 20, 2020
Chromatin Doesn't Behave Like a Liquid or Solid - It's a Gel
A cell's nucleus has to hold the entire genome. To do that, the DNA has to be carefully arranged and compacted by protei ...
DEC 27, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Using Antibodies & Oligonucleotides to Control Specific Reactions
DEC 27, 2020
Using Antibodies & Oligonucleotides to Control Specific Reactions
Antibodies are naturally used by the body to bind targets on pathogens and neutralize them, and these specific interacti ...
DEC 28, 2020
Cancer
Revealing a Critical Protein Involved in the Pentose Phosphate Pathway in Cancer
DEC 28, 2020
Revealing a Critical Protein Involved in the Pentose Phosphate Pathway in Cancer
The metabolism of cancer has interested scientists in recent decades. Many cancers conduct "normal" metabolism ...
Loading Comments...