In people with Parkinson’s, dopamine-producing brain cells have died. We know that the decrease in dopamine can cause Parkinson’s symptoms, and current treatments such as levodopa can increase dopamine and reduce symptoms.
How can gut bacteria affect Parkinson’s?
Researchers around the world have been aware of the link between the gut and the development of Parkinson’s for some time. Symptoms such as constipation often happen before other symptoms of Parkinson’s occur.
In 2016, researchers from the California Institute of Technology found that symptoms in a mouse model of Parkinson’s worsened when given gut bacteria from people with the condition.
A clue for a new treatment?
Dr Doitsidou and her team are looking more closely at the hundreds of species of bacteria in the gut. They want to find out which gut bacteria are helpful in protecting dopamine-producing cells in the brain, and which are harmful.
This could help researchers find a new treatment for Parkinson’s. The gut is more accessible than the brain, so any protective bacteria could be harnessed through pro-biotic supplements, or harmful bacteria could be targeted through drug therapies.
Dr Doitsidou has already identified two types of bacteria that could be beneficial to people with Parkinson’s and will continue to investigate them.
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“My research is only a small part of a very big effort going on around the world. The accumulated knowledge and findings from all this different research helps to give us a more complete picture of what is happening in Parkinson’s. And it brings us closer to our common goal of finding new and better treatments.”