DEC 02, 2016 1:35 PM PST

Bacteria and Parkinson's, a connection?

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
These days, it seems like gut microbes are important for nearly every aspect of human health. Recently, researchers from the California of Institute of Technology found that gut microbes may be responsible for the motor deficits that accompany Parkinson’s disease. Their work is published in the most recent issue of Cell.
 
Study author Sarkis Mazmanian knew that people with Parkinson’s disease have an abnormal gut microbiome and often experience gastrointestinal symptoms. Parkinson’s is caused by the accumulation of  the protein alpha-synuclein in neurons, and the condition affects nearly 1 million people in the United States.
Gut microbes may affect motor function.
To determine whether there is a link between gut microbes and Parkinson’s, Mazmanian and colleagues studied Parkinson’s-prone mice raised in either normal or germ-free conditions (these mice overexpress alpha-synuclein). The mice raised in normal conditions developed motor deficits typical of Parkinson’s, but the mice raised in germ-free conditions did not. The researchers tested for motor deficits by determining how well each mouse walked across a beam, climbed down a pole, or removed an adhesive from its nose. Next, they performed a similar experiment by treating mice with antibiotics - these mice also developed motor deficits.
 
Because motor deficits correlate with the accumulation of alpha-synuclein, they wanted to know if the gut microbes were required for alpha-synuclein to accumulate. Surprisingly, the germ-free mice had fewer aggregations of alpha-synuclein in their brains! Pretty neat stuff.
 
Gut microbes produce short-chain fatty acids as part of their normal metabolism, and the researchers wanted to know if these fatty acids played any role in motor function. To test this, mice raised in germ-free conditions were transplanted with short-chain fatty acids. Indeed, these Parkinson’s-prone mice also developed motor issues.
 
Finally, the researchers gave the mice fecal transplants from people with Parkinson’s disease. Sure enough, these mice developed motor deficits! It’s important to note, however, that only the mice predisposed to Parkinson’s - that overexpress alpha-synuclein - developed motor issues after the fecal transplant. (That means you can’t blame everything on the bacteria!)
 
According to Mazmanian,“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.”
 
These findings suggest that if we can alter the balance of gut microbes - with probiotics, for example - we may be able to treat some of the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. “Much like any other drug discovery process, translating this innovative work from mice to humans will take many years. But this is an important first step toward our long-term goal of leveraging the deep, mechanistic insights that we have uncovered for a gut-brain connection to help ease the medical, economic, and social burden of Parkinson's disease,” says Mazmanian.
 
 
 
About the Author
  • Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
You May Also Like
MAY 24, 2020
Microbiology
Cavity-Causing Microbes Are Protected by Rings of Sugars and Germs
MAY 24, 2020
Cavity-Causing Microbes Are Protected by Rings of Sugars and Germs
Bacteria can form tough communities called biofilms, which are difficult to remove and can resist the effects of antimic ...
JUN 04, 2020
Microbiology
The Big Effect of a Small Protein
JUN 04, 2020
The Big Effect of a Small Protein
Sepsis and bacterial meningitis are life-threatening diseases caused by meningococci bacteria.
JUN 25, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Peptide Made by Marine Worms Can Destroy Multidrug-Resistant Bacteria
JUN 25, 2020
Peptide Made by Marine Worms Can Destroy Multidrug-Resistant Bacteria
Drug-resistant bacteria pose a serious threat to public health, and scientists have been searching for new antibiotics t ...
JUL 15, 2020
Microbiology
A Common Drug Could Help Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 Infections
JUL 15, 2020
A Common Drug Could Help Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 Infections
Heparin is a very common drug that's been approved as an anticoagulant since 1992. Researchers have now found that the m ...
JUL 22, 2020
Microbiology
Tiny, Parasitic Bacteria Can Find a Home in the Human Mouth
JUL 22, 2020
Tiny, Parasitic Bacteria Can Find a Home in the Human Mouth
Some microbes that live in environments as diverse as groundwater and moose have also been found in the human mouth.
JUL 30, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Laser Beams Vibrate Viruses to Distinguish Them
JUL 30, 2020
Laser Beams Vibrate Viruses to Distinguish Them
  In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of rapid viral diagnostics has really hit home. Classic ...
Loading Comments...