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The Immune System Attacks in Parkinson’s Disease

Scientists have theorized for over 100 years that a tie exists between Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and the immune system, however an association was unable to be identified through prior investigation until now…

Parkinson’s Disease – The Basics

  • Progressive disorder affecting movement
  • Neurons called substantia nigra are affected
  • Some of the neurons produce dopamine
  • Dopamine communicates movement and coordination controls to the brain
  • Key Indicator – Lewy Bodies
  • Predominately composed of misfolded alpha-synuclein

The lab of Dr. David Sulzer from the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology debunked the common belief that neurons are safe from autoimmune attacks. The dopamine neurons have cell surface proteins that are recognizable by T-Cells, identifying themselves as non-foreign bodies.  Due to the buildup of Lewy Bodies, the T-Cells to mistakenly recognize the neurons as foreign bodies and attack the neurons. 

Dr. Sulzer added that “young, healthy cells break down and recycle old or damaged proteins, but that recycling process declines with age and with certain diseases, including Parkinson’s. If abnormal alpha-synuclein begins to accumulate, and the immune system hasn’t seen it before, the protein could be mistaken as a pathogen that needs to be attacked.” (GEN)

The Study looked at the blood of 67 PD patients and 36 age-matched control patients.  When study samples were challenged with alpha-synuclein fragments, PD patients’ showed a strong immune response and controls saw little to no immune-activity.  This indicates that PD patients’ T-Cells were already primed to attack alpha-synuclein from prior exposure.

Additionally, the alpha-synuclein fragments perform as an antibody binding site to helper and cytotoxic T-Cells.  The antigenic epitopes displayed could explain the major histocompatibility complex alleles linked with PD.

The detailed findings can be found in Nature, entitled “T cells of Parkinson’s disease patients recognize alpha-synuclein peptides.”


New Evidence Linking Parkinson’s and Autoimmunity

Parkinson’s disease

T cells of Parkinson’s disease patients recognize alpha-synuclein peptides

What is Parkinson’s Disease?