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Supernova by Philipp Berg from the University of Cambridge

Study highlights the role of the immune system in Parkinson's

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New research, reported in the scientific journal Nature, suggests that the immune system plays an important role in the progression of Parkinson's.

The study, which looked at immune cells from 67 people with Parkinson's and 36 healthy participants, shows that the condition may cause an autoimmune response.

Problems with the immune system

The immune system protects our bodies from foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. There are a number of autoimmune conditions that are caused when the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages healthy cells in the body.

Previous studies have suggested that certain genetic factors, which control how our immune system behaves, are linked to an increased risk of Parkinson's.

This research, for the first time, suggests that the immune system in people with Parkinson's may respond to a protein called alpha synuclein, which is known to be involved in the condition.

The researchers suggest that changes in the alpha synuclein protein could activate the immune system, causing it to start attacking dopamine producing brain cells.

A new avenue to develop treatments

Dr David Dexter, Deputy Director of Research at Parkinson's UK, comments:

"We still do not understand why people develop Parkinson's and lose precious brain cells gradually over time.

"This research lends weight to the radical idea that the condition may involve the immune system becoming confused and damaging our own cells.

"We still need to understand more about how the immune system may be involved in the complex chain of events that contribute to Parkinson's, but ultimately this presents an exciting new avenue to explore to help develop new treatments that may be able to slow or stop the condition in its tracks."

David has also written a blog post that looks at the science behind this news.