11 December 2014

Gut flora link to Parkinson's disease

by Will Parker

Medical researchers in Finland hope that their discovery of a significant variation in the gut microbiota of Parkinson's sufferers could be used to improve diagnostics for the disease and perhaps even prevent it. The new research was made possible by funding from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and the Finnish Parkinson Foundation.

The work, by researchers from the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUCH), adds to other recent studies that have linked gut flora to a range of conditions and diseases such as obesity, depression, schizophrenia, and Chlamydia.

In the new work, the researchers show that Parkinson's disease sufferers have a significantly different microbiota in their intestines than their healthy counterparts. The findings are based on 72 subjects with Parkinson's and an equal number of healthy controls.

"Our most important observation was that patients with Parkinson's have much less bacteria from the Prevotellaceae family; unlike the control group, practically no one in the patient group had a large quantity of bacteria from this family," explained HUCH neurologist Filip Scheperjans.

The researchers have not yet determined what the lack of Prevotellaceae bacteria in Parkinson's sufferers means - do these bacteria perhaps have a property which protects their host from the disease? Or does this discovery merely indicate that intestinal dysfunction is part of the pathology of Parkinson's? "It's an interesting question which we are trying to answer," Sheperjans says.

Interestingly, the researchers also discovered that the amount of bacteria from the Enterobacteriaceae family in the intestine was connected to the degree of severity of balance and walking problems in the patients. The more Enterobacteriaceae they had, the more severe the symptoms.

"We are currently re-examining these same subjects to determine whether the differences are permanent and whether intestinal bacteria are associated with the progression of the disease and therefore its prognosis," explains Sheperjans.

"In addition," he added, "we will have to see if these changes in the bacterial ecosystem are apparent before the onset of motor symptoms. We will of course also try to establish the basis of this connection between intestinal microbiota and Parkinson's disease - what kind of mechanism binds them."

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Source: University of Helsinki