When it occurs, it gradually involves the different motor, vegetative, behavioral and cognitive functions, leading patients who suffer from it to a progressive neurological degeneration. New research published in Science Translation Medicine suggests that Parkinson‘s disease could start in the intestine, establishing a correlation with the appendix. We talked about this topic with Professor Alberto Albanese, Professor of Neurology and head of the Neurology Unit of Humanitas.
How does Parkinson’s disease begin?
Parkinson’s disease begins when the production of dopamine in the brain drops due to the degeneration of neurons in an area called “black substance”. From the marrow to the brain, accumulations of a protein called “alpha-synuclein” also begin to appear, which according to some may be responsible for the spread of the disease throughout the brain. Several elements that have not yet been fully discovered contribute to the cause of the disease. However, the genetic factor seems to be primary: about 20% of patients in fact have a family history with the disease. In the literature, exposure to toxic substances such as pesticides, hydrocarbons-solvents and heavy metals (iron, zinc, copper) may also be an important risk factor.
The new hypothesis of the link between Parkinson’s and the appendix
A recently published study in Science Translation Medicine also suggests a relationship between Parkinson’s disease and the appendix. “It is a very interesting study because it proposes many clues that suggest that Parkinson’s disease starts right in the intestine – explained Professor Albanese. In the abdomen it would produce altered proteins that can be transported through the nerves ‘backwards’, in retrograde reaching the brain and then spreading the disease from there. According to the research, the hypothesis is that these altered proteins accumulate in the appendix and for this reason people who have undergone an appendectomy would be less likely to suffer from Parkinson’s disease.