Does Parkinson’s have us by the short and curli?

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For a some time, issues with the gastrointestinal system has been associated with Parkinson’s. For example, gut-related complaints – such as constipation and irritable bowel syndrome – are believed to be risk factors for developing the condition.

Researchers have recently been exploring the bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal system in the hope of identifying species of microbes that could be directly influencing the condition. Exactly how these tiny organisms might be doing that, however, remains a mystery.

Now researchers have focused their attention on a particular type of protein that is being produced by some of those bacteria. It is called curli.

In today’s post, we will discuss what curli is, explore what functions it has, and do a deep dive into some of the data suggesting it could be involved with Parkinson’s.

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Me. In a skirt. Eating dirt. Not my worst moment. Source: Drqaisrani

It has to be said that our gastrointestinal systems are incredibly robust.

When I think of all the rubbish I put down my throat as a toddler (and then of all the rubbish I put into my gut as an adult) I am bewildered as to how that 30 feet of digestive machinery is still functioning. And yet it does.

Reasonably well, at least. There is that whole ice cream thing, but let’s not dwell on that (Click here to learn more about that).

Something’s missing in my life. Source: Morellisices

Despite all the accolades for its robustness, our guts do represent one of the greatest opportunities for foreign organisms to invade our bodies. It is a very supportive, resource-rich environment for many microbes, and they can easily take up residence without us even knowing.

Source: Huffington Post

And this is an important aspect of our guts, as it is becoming increasingly clear that some of these uninvited guests can have a very negative impact on our bodies.

Recently, there are been a huge amount of attention in Parkinson’s research focused on the gut and the bacteria that live within it for this very reason.

But what is the connection between the gut and Parkinson’s?

Continue reading “Does Parkinson’s have us by the short and curli?”

The Stanford Parkinson’s Disease Plasma Study

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Researchers in California have been conducting a different kind of Parkinson’s clinical trial. Rather than testing a drug or a special diet/exercise regime, they have been giving participants in their study a regular infusion of plasma.

If you remove all of the cells from blood, the yellowish liquid that remains is called plasma. In medicine, plasma is usually used to boost a patient’s blood volume to help reduce shock. But recently researchers have been experimenting with giving older individuals infusions of plasma collected from young individuals to see if this has any beneficial effects.

A group of researchers at Stanford University have been leading a study examining the safety of infusions of plasma (collected from young people) in a cohort of individuals with Parkinson’s. This week they published the results of their study.

In today’s post, we will discuss what plasma is made of, why young plasma may help in neurodegenerative conditions, and review the results of the new study.

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Source: KhanAcademy

There are three chief components of blood:

  • Red blood cells
  • White blood cells
  • Plasma

Red blood cells carry oxygen to distant parts of the body and they also remove carbon dioxide. And by volume, the red blood cells constitute about 45% of whole blood. White blood cells are the immune cells, fighting off infections etc. And they – this may surprise you – make up only 0.7% of whole blood.

That might sound like a tiny fraction, but understand that within a single drop of blood (50 ul) there are approximately 5 million red blood cells, and 5,000 to 25,000 white blood cells.

Apologies to the squeamish. Source: Science

And in total the human body contains about 4.5 litres (or 1.2 gallons) of blood. That’s a whole lot of drops. Plenty of white blood cells to help keep us healthy.

And what about plasma?

Plasma is the stuff that all of the red and white blood cells sit in. It has a yellowish tinge to it, and it makes up the other 54.3% of whole blood.

It contains 92% water and 8% ‘other stuff’.

Apologies for the very technical term (‘other stuff’), but there is a great deal of interesting stuff in that ‘other stuff’.

What do you mean ‘interesting’?

Continue reading “The Stanford Parkinson’s Disease Plasma Study”

Ptbp1: “One and done”(?)

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Recently a lot of media attention has been focused on a new study that reported the replacement of lost dopamine neurons in a mouse model of Parkinson’s, which resulted in the correction the associated behavioural/motor issues.

The researchers involved achieved this amazing feat by simply reducing a single protein in a special type of helper cell in the brain, called astrocytes. By lowering the levels of the protein, they were able to transform the astrocytes into dopamine neurons.

Intriguingly, the study represented independent replication of a previous study that demonstrated a similar result – transformation of astrocytes inside a mouse brain into dopamine neurons by reducing a single protein.

The protein in both studies is called Ptbp1, and in today’s post we will discuss what this protein does, what the new study found, and what the implications of this work could be.

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Source: Howtogeek

Earlier this year, I stated in my 2020 wish list for Parkinson’s research (Click here to read that post) that one of the big themes I was hoping to see more of was further research on regenerative approaches for the condition.

We have discussed this a few times, but any “curative” treatment for Parkinson’s will require 3 components:

  1. A disease halting mechanism – to slow/stop the progression of the disease
  2. A neuroprotective agent – to protect the remaining cells & provide a nurturing environment for,
  3. Some form of restorative/regenerative therapy – replacing what has been lost

Now the encouraging news is that if you look at the SoPD “The Road Ahead: 2020” post, you will see that there is a great deal of research being conducted on all three of these components at the clinical stage (in addition to vast amounts of work on the preclinical level).

But it is fair to say that the bulk of the clinical research being conducted on restorative therapy for Parkinson’s is centred around the transplantation of stem cell-derived dopamine neurons to replace the cells that have been lost in Parkinson’s (click here to read a recent SoPD post on this topic).

Embryonic stem cells in a petridish. Source: Wikipedia

In my wish list for 2020, I was hoping to see regenerative approaches beyond the well trodden path of cell transplantation (growing cells in culture and then injecting them into the brain).

Dopamine neurons (green) in cell culture. Source: Axolbio

Rather, I was hoping to see more research on new regenerative approaches that target/manipulate endogenous pathways in the brain – forcing changes within the central nervous system itself.

I didn’t have high expectations in this department, but I have to admit that now I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of research reports that have been published thus far this year highlighting novel regenerative approaches. We have discussed several of them here on the SoPD already (Click here and here for examples), and today we are going to review another which was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.

This is what all the news papers have been talking about?

Indeed. There has been a lot of media attention focused on this research report.

So what does the new study report?

Continue reading “Ptbp1: “One and done”(?)”