Could Parkinson’s disease be an autoimmune disorder? A recent study from Columbia University revealed a possible link between the immune system — the body’s defense system against disease — and alpha-synuclein, the sticky protein that clumps in the cells of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF)-funded researchers published in the scientific journal Nature that molecular structures derived from alpha-synuclein are recognized by the immune system in people with PD, which could produce an autoimmune response and harm cells.
The investigators, led by David Sulzer, PhD, will next test whether blocking the autoimmune response could impact Parkinson’s progression.
These findings build on growing evidence supporting a role of the immune system in PD. Studies have found activated immune system markers in the brains of those with Parkinson’s. Other research has associated Parkinson’s with variants in genes tied to the immune system, and Dr. Sulzer and his colleagues previously identified a link between these genes and alpha-synuclein function in models of Parkinson’s.
Another recent study, also funded in part by MJFF, revealed an association between the immune system and the LRRK2 protein. Mutations in the LRRK2 gene are linked to Parkinson’s.
We’ll continue to follow and share findings from this promising area of research.
Author: Loren DeVito, PhD
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