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expert reaction to study reporting the relationship between gut microbes and Parkinson’s disease symptoms in mice

Publishing in the journal Cell, researchers have reported that the function of a key protein associated with Parkinson’s disease may be modified by gut bacteria. The researchers report that alterations in gut microbes may signify a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease.


Dr Patrick Lewis, Associate Professor in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, University of Reading, said:

“There has been a lot of interest for a number of years in the link between the gut and Parkinson’s disease, but this is one of the first studies to really test in a rigorous manner what happens to the changes in the brain (especially the accumulation of a sticky protein, called alpha synuclein) associated with Parkinson’s when you alter the bacterial content of the gut. There is clearly a lot of work to be done in terms of linking this observation in mice to what happens in the human disease, but this study really does reinforce the idea that examining what goes on in the stomach of people with Parkinson’s (or who may go on to develop Parkinson’s) could provide really important insights into what happens in disease – and potentially a new area of biology to target in trying to slow down or halt the changes in the brain that cause Parkinson’s. It is important to highlight, however, that many years of research will be needed to validate and follow up on these findings before we know if this could help in the effort to develop new drugs.”


Dr Arthur Roach, Director of Research and Development, Parkinson’s UK said:

“In recent years, evidence has been growing that Parkinson’s may begin in the gut, but the chain of events involved has so far remained a mystery.

“This paper shows for the first time a way in which one of the key players in Parkinson’s, the protein alpha-synuclein, may have its actions in the brain modified by gut bacteria. It is important to note however that this study has been done in mice and we would need further studies in other model systems and in humans to confirm that this connection is real.

“We also know that many gut microbes have beneficial effects, so wiping them all out would certainly not be a treatment option for Parkinson’s.

“Despite this, this work opens an exciting new avenue of study on the gut-brain connection in Parkinson’s. There are still many questions to answer but we hope this will trigger more research that will ultimately revolutionise treatment options for Parkinson’s.”


* ‘Gut Microbiota Regulate Motor Deficits and Neuroinflammation in a Model of Parkinson’s Disease’ by Sampson et al. was published in Cell on Thursday 1st December.


Declared interests

Dr Patrick Lewis Employee of the University of Reading, funded by the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, National Institutes of Health, Newton Scheme, honorary position at University College London, member of the Royal Institution, Biochemical Society, Fabian Society and Society for Neuroscience, member of the BBSRC pool of experts, scientific advisory committee for Ataxia UK, grant assessment panel for Parkinson’s UK and the research strategy committee of the MS Society, and provided support by Merck for research conference hosting, paid honorarium by Astex Pharmaceuticals.

Dr Arthur Roach: None received.

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