Will Appendix Be Key for Parkinson’s Disease?
Resident Viviane Labrie from Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids has said that “This is a tissue that most people consider to be a useless organ. It’s attached to the large intestine, and it’s removed as a very common surgical practice,”
Why? “The hallmark pathology of Parkinson’s disease in the brain is Lewy bodies, which is characterized by a clumped form of a protein called alpha-synuclein,” Labrie explained.What’s more, clumps of this protein are found in the intestinal tract and are “present in the appendixes of all of us,” sometimes years before Parkinson’s symptoms arise, she said.
So, “we think that if in rare events [such protein clumps] were to escape the appendix and enter the brain, this could lead to Parkinson’s disease.” How? Simply by traveling up the nerve that connects the intestinal tract directly to the brain, Labrie said.
As we all know that Parkinsonism is a neurodegenrative condition. Common among the complications of Parkinson’s is the onset of gastrointestinal dysfunction — including constipation — which can actually precede mobility loss by as much as 20 years. This signaled a potential link between Parkinson’s onset and the appendix, the researchers explained.
Still, Labrie stressed that “we are not saying that having an appendix causes Parkinson’s disease, and that all people should go out and remove their appendix.”
Rather, “we think that what actually distinguishes a person that goes on to develop Parkinson’s from one that does not is not the presence of this pathology, but rather the factors that trigger departure from the appendix.” That raises the prospect for developing new therapies designed to prevent such protein clumps from escaping the appendix.
The findings were published in the Oct. 31 issue of Science Translational Medicine.