Scientists have found that malformation in a protein found in the gut cells may contribute to the onset as well as spread of Parkinson's disease.
Alpha-synuclein is the main component of Lewy bodies, or toxic protein deposits that take up residence in brain cells, killing them from the inside.
The study from Duke University in the US identified the alpha-synuclein protein, which when deformed leads to damaging clumps in the brains of Parkinson's patients, as well as those with Alzheimer's disease.
Once altered in the gut, the protein travels to the brain, where it causes the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, the researchers said in the paper published in the journal JCI Insight.
"There is abundant evidence that misfolded alpha-synuclein is found in the nerves of the gut before it appears in the brain, but exactly where this misfolding occurs is unknown," said Rodger Liddle, Professor at Duke.
Parkinson's disease is a progressive movement disorder, affecting as many as seven million to 10 million people worldwide, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.
"Unfortunately, there aren't great treatments for Parkinson's disease right now," Liddle said, adding "it's conceivable down the road that there could be ways to prevent alpha-synuclein misfolding, if you can make the diagnosis early."
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