Researchers have recently described a new method to quantify a person’s “immune age” – a measure that could act as a key determinant of future health, as well as response to disease and treatment.
This novel test appears to provide a more reliable predictor for the status of one’s immune system than any other previous method.
And it could be useful in other ways.
In today’s post, we will discuss this new method of determining “immune age”, explore examples of how similar analysis has been used for other conditions, and consider what it could mean for Parkinson’s.
Do you remember Andre Agassi?
I know he’s still around, but when I was young and less beautiful, I was a big fan. Not only of his on court achievements, but also of his charismatic off-court image.
And it certainly paid off well for him:
One of the things that Agassi taught us was that “image is everything”.
Before Agassi, tennis was a conservative sport of white shirts & shorts (McEnroe was basically as radical as things got). It was bland, conservative, and – yes, I’ll say it – boring.
Agassi not only brought colour but charisma to the game. It was shocking and disgraceful to some, but to young, naive fools like me, it was a captivating breath of much needed fresh air.
Despite the early infatuation with the stylings of Mr Agassi, I have to admit that I have never remotely been concerned about own image. My dimensions mean that I wear what fits as opposed to what I like, and as a result the finished product is better behind a keyboard rather than speaking to a crowd.
But as I have gotten older, I have become concerned about a different kind of IMM-AGE (not a typo).
Let me explain: Recently some researchers in Israel and at Stanford University in the US published a rather remarkable research report which if replicated could have important implications for how we approach medical care.
What did they report?
Inflammation is part of the immune system’s response to damage or infection. It is a very natural process that our bodies undergo when we come into harms way.
Researchers at the University of Queensland, have recently demonstrated something interesting about the inflammation associated with Parkinson’s: by inhibiting a very specific part of the inflammatory process, they can reduce the spread of Parkinson’s associated alpha synuclein pathology in models of PD.
And they have developed a drug – called MCC950 – that specifically targets that component of the inflammation process which they are now seeking to test in clinical trials.
In today’s post, we will discuss what inflammation is, review this new research, and consider what it could all mean for the Parkinson’s community.
Spot the unhealthy cell – exhibiting signs of stress (yellow). Source: Gettyimages
No silly preamble today – this is going to be a very long post, so we’re diving straight in:
When cells in your body are stressed or sick, they begin to release messenger proteins which inform the rest of your body that something is wrong.
When enough cells release these messenger proteins, it can cause inflammation.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a vital part of the immune system’s response to trouble. It is the body’s way of communicating to the immune system that something is wrong and activating it so that it can help deal with the situation.
By releasing the messenger proteins, injured/sick cells kick off a process that results in multiple types of immune cells entering the troubled area of the body and undertaking very specific tasks.
The inflammatory process. Source: Trainingcor
The strength of the immune response depends on the volume of the signal arising from those released messenger proteins.
And the level of messenger proteins being released partly depends on multi-protein structures called inflammasomes.
What are inflammasomes?
On the 12th and 13th November, Parkinson’s UK held their biennial research conference in York.
It is not only an opportunity for the charity to showcase some of the research that they have funded over the last few years, but it was also a chance for members of the Parkinson’s research community to come together to share ideas, network and form new collaborations.
I was lucky enough to attend the event this year, and wanted to share some of the take away messages from the conference with the readers.
In today’s post, we will review Parkinson’s UK 2018 research conference (#Parkinsons2018).
Parkinson’s UK is the largest Parkinson’s research and support charity in the United Kingdom. Since 2015, they have invested over £18 million in a variety of research projects focused on all aspects of Parkinson’s – from new experimental treatments to the Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank.
Every two years, Parkinson’s UK holds a conference highlighting some of the research that the organisation has funded over the last few years. The meeting is usually held in the beautiful walled city of York – lots of history and narrow streets to explore.
Th “The Shambles” in York. Source: hauntedrooms
Researchers are building as ever increasing amount of evidence supporting the idea that as our bodies age, there is an accumulation of cells that cease to function normally. But rather than simply dying, these ‘non-functional’ cells shut down and enter a state which is refered to as ‘senescence‘.
And scientists have also discovered that these senescent cells are not completely dormant. They are still active, but their activity can be of a rather negative flavour. And new research from the
The good news is that a novel class of therapies are being developed to deal with senescent cells. These new drugs are called senolytics.
In today’s post, we will discuss what is meant by senescence, we will review the new data associated with Parkinson’s, and we will consider some of the interesting senolytic approaches that could be useful for PD.
This is not my living room… honest. Source: Youtube
Humans being are great collectors.
We may not all be hoarders – as in the image above – but everyone has extra baggage. Everybody has stuff they don’t need. And the ridiculous part of this equation is that some of that stuff is kept on despite the fact that it doesn’t even work properly any more.
The obvious question is:
Oh, and don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about all that junk you have lying around in your house/shed.
No, I’m referring to all the senescent cells in your body.
Huh? What are senescent cells?
In December of of 2017, the results of a clinical trial suggested that a particular kind of exercise may have beneficial effects against certain aspects of Parkinson’s. Specifically, a high-intensity treadmill regime was found to be ‘non-futile’ as an intervention for the motor symptoms in de novo (newly diagnosed) Parkinson’s.
Recently, however, new pre-clinical research has been published which reported that when mice with particular Parkinson’s-associated genetic mutations are exercised to exhaustion, they have high levels of inflammation which can exaggerate the neurodegeneration associated with that model of PD.
So naturally, some readers are now asking “So should I be exercising or not?!?”
In today’s post we will review the results of the two studies mentioned above, and discuss why exercise is still important for people with Parkinson’s.
Readers are recommended to click on the image above and listen to the music (Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” from 1983) whilst reading this post.
This song was made famous by one particular scene from the 1983 movie “Flashdance” starring Jennifer Beals, in which the lead character undertook an intense dance routine. Ever since that iconic scene, exercise fanatics have long used the music to help get themselves into the mood for their workouts.
One of my personal life goals. Source: Jobcrusher
Few experts would disagree that the benefits of exercise are many.
Adults who achieve at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week have:
- up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
- up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
- up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
- a 30% lower risk of early death
- up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
- up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
- a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
- up to a 30% lower risk of depression
- up to a 30% lower risk of dementia
But what about people with PD? What do we know about exercise and Parkinson’s?
The clustering (or aggregation) of the protein, alpha synuclein, is a cardinal feature of the Parkinsonian brain, and it is believed to be associated with the neurodegeneration that characterises the condition.
As a result, many pharmaceutical and biotech companies are focused a great deal of attention on identifying novel compounds that can enter the brain and inhibit alpha synuclein from aggregating. Recently, a collaboration of companies published the results of an amazingly large study highlighting novel inhibitors.
But an interesting aspect of the results was the ‘positive control’ compound they used: Epigallocatechin Gallate (or simply EGCG)
In today’s post, we will review the results of the study, discuss what EGCG is, and look at what is known about this compound in the context of Parkinson’s.
Every now and then, the research report of a huge study comes along.
And by that, I don’t mean that the results have a major impact. Rather, I am referring to the scope and scale of the work effort required to conduct the study. For example, the GIANT study which is looking for genetic variations associated with height (Click here to read a previous SoPD post that briefly touches on that study).
Recently, the report of one huge study was published:
Title: Potent α-Synuclein Aggregation Inhibitors, Identified by High-Throughput Screening, Mainly Target the Monomeric State
Authors: Kurnik M, Sahin C, Andersen CB, Lorenzen N, Giehm L, Mohammad-Beigi H, Jessen CM, Pedersen JS, Christiansen G, Petersen SV, Staal R, Krishnamurthy G, Pitts K, Reinhart PH, Mulder FAA, Mente S, Hirst WD, Otzen DE.
Journal: Cell Chem Biol. 2018 Aug 29. pii: S2451-9456(18)30271-X.
In this study, researchers from Arrhus University, Biogen, Amgen, Genentech, Forma Therapeutics, & Alentis Pharma screened almost 750,000 different compounds for their ability to interact with the Parkinsons-associated protein alpha synuclein.
And before we go any further, just take a moment to fully appreciate the size of that number again:
That is eye watering stuff! That is a “I need to sit down for a moment and let this sink in” kind of number. That is a “Are there that many compounds in all of the known universe?” number.
After reading the number, I was left wondering what each of the scientists involved in this study must have been thinking when the boss first said “Hey guys, let’s screen half a million compounds…. no, wait, better yet, why stop there. Let’s make it 3/4 of a million compounds”
How enthusiastic was the “Yes boss” response, I wonder?
All kidding aside, this is an amazing study (and the actual number of compounds screened was only 746,000).
And the researchers who conducted the study should be congratulated on their achievement, as the results of their study may have a profound impact in the longer-term for the Parkinson’s community – you see, the researchers found 58 compounds that markedly inhibited the aggregation of alpha synuclein, as well as another 100 compounds that actually increased its aggregation. A great deal of research will result from this single, remarkable piece of work.
But of particular interest to us here at the SoPD, was the activity of one of the positive control compounds that the researchers used in some of the tests.
What was the control compound?
The cryptic title of this post will hopefully make sense by the time you have finished reading the material present here.
This week, new research from the USA points towards an increased risk of Parkinson’s (PD) for people that suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
That same research, however, also points towards a clinically available treatment that appears to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s in individuals affected by inflammatory bowel disease. That treatment being: anti–tumor necrosis factor antibodies (TNF AB). Is that title making sense yet? If not, read on.
In today’s post, we will outline what inflammatory bowel disease is, review what the new research found, and discuss what is known about TNF in Parkinson’s.
Inflammatory bowel disease. Source: Symprove
Inflammatory bowel disease (or IBD) is one of these umbrella terms that is used to refer to a group of inflammatory conditions of the large and small intestine:
The large and small intestine. Source: Adam
The symptoms of IBD can include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, rectal bleeding, severe internal cramps/muscle spasms in the region of the pelvis, and weight loss.
There has been an increased incidence of IBD since World War II, which could be associated with increased awareness and reporting of the condition, but it could also be linked with increases in meat consumption (Click here to read more about this). For example, in 2015, an estimated 1.3% of U.S. adults (3 million) were diagnosed with IBD, which was a large increase on the levels in 1999 (0.9% or 2 million adults – Source: CDC).
This is delightful, but what does it have to do with Parkinson’s?
So this week, an interesting study was published on the Journal of the American Medical Association – Neurology edition website:
The biotech company Acorda Therapeutics Inc. yesterday announced that it was halting new recruitment for the phase III program of its drug Tozadenant (an oral adenosine A2a receptor antagonist).
In addition, participants currently enrolled in the trial will now have their blood monitoring conducted on a weekly basis.
The initial report looks really bad (tragically five people have died), but does this tragic news mean that the drug should be disregarded?
In todays post, we will look at what adenosine A2a receptor antagonists are, how they may help with Parkinson’s, and discuss what has happened with this particular trial.
Dr Ron Cohen, CEO of Acorda. Source: EndpointNews
Founded in 1995, Acorda Therapeutics Ltd is a biotechnology company that is focused on developing therapies that restore function and improve the lives of people with neurological disorders, particularly Parkinson’s disease.
Earlier this year, they had positive results in their phase III clinical trial of Inbrija (formerly known as CVT-301 – Click here to read a previous post about this). They have subsequently filed a New Drug Application with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make this inhalable form of L-dopa available in the clinic, but the application has been delayed due to manufacturing concerns from the FDA (Click here to read more about this). These issues should be solvable – the company and the FDA are working together on these matters – and the product will hopefully be available in the new year.
So what was the news yesterday?
Acorda Therapeutics has another experimental product going through the clinical trial process for Parkinson’s disease.
It’s called Tozadenant.
Tozadenant is an oral adenosine A2a receptor antagonist (and yes, we’ll discuss what all that means in a moment).
Yesterday Acorda Therapeutics Inc announced that they have halted new recruitment for their phase III clinical program. In addition the company is increasing the frequency of blood cell count monitoring (from monthly to weekly) for participants already enrolled in the company’s Phase 3 program of Tozadenant for Parkinson’s disease.
The Company took this action due to reports of cases of agranulocytosis.
In the world of scientific research, if you publish your research in one of the top peer-reviewed journals (eg. Cell, Nature, or Science) that means that it is pretty important stuff.
This week a research report was published in the journal Cell, dealing with the bacteria in our gut and Parkinson’s disease. If it is replicated and confirmed, it will most certainly be considered REALLY ‘important stuff’.
In today’s post we review what the researchers found in their study.
Bacteria in the gut. Source: Huffington Post
Although we may think of ourselves as individuals, we are not.
We are host to billions of microorganisms. Ours bodies are made up of microbiomes – that is, collections of microbes or microorganisms inhabiting particular environments and creating “mini-ecosystems”. Most of these bacteria have very important functions which help to keep us healthy and functioning normally. Without them we would be in big trouble.
One of the most important microbiomes in our body is that of the gut (Click here for a nice short review on this topic). And recently there has been a lot of evidence that the microbiome of our gut may be playing a critical role in Parkinson’s disease.
What does the gut have to do with Parkinson’s disease?
We have previously written about the connections between the gut and Parkinson’s disease (see our very first post, and subsequent posts here, here and here), and there are now many theories that this debilitating condition may actually start in the gastrointestinal system. This week a new study was published which adds to the accumulating evidence.
So what does the new study say?
Title: Gut Microbiota Regulate Motor Deficits and Neuroinflammation in a Model of Parkinson’s Disease
Authors: Sampson TR, Debelius JW, Thron T, Janssen S, Shastri GG, Ilhan ZE, Challis C, Schretter CE, Rocha S, Gradinaru V, Chesselet MF, Keshavarzian A, Shannon KM, Krajmalnik-Brown R, Wittung-Stafshede P, Knight R, Mazmanian SK
Journal: Cell, 167 (6), 1469–1480
PMID: 27912057 (this article is available here)
The researchers (who have previously conducted a great deal of research on the microbiome of the gut and it’s interactions with the host) used mice that have been genetically engineered to produce abnormal amounts of alpha synuclein – the protein associated with Parkinson’s disease (Click here for more on this). They tested these mice and normal wild-type mice on some behavioural tasks and found that the alpha-synuclein producing mice performed worse.
A lab mouse. Source: USNews
The researchers then raised a new batch of alpha-synuclein producing mice in a ‘germ free environment’ and tested them on the same behavioural tasks. ‘Germ free environment’ means that the mice have no microorganisms living within them.
And guess what happened:
The germ-free alpha-synuclein producing mice performed as well as on the behavioural task as the normal mice. There was no difference in the performance of the two sets of mice.
How could this be?
This is what the researchers were wondering, so they decided to have a look at the brains of the mice, where they found less aggregation (clustering or clumping together) of alpha synuclein in the brains of germ-free alpha-synuclein producing mice than their ‘germ-full’ alpha-synuclein producing mice.
This result suggested that the microbiome of the gut may be somehow involved with controlling the aggregation of alpha-synuclein in the brain. The researchers also noticed that the microglia – helper cells in the brain – of the germ-free alpha-synuclein producing mice looked different to their counterparts in the germ-full alpha-synuclein producing mice, indicating that in the absence of aggregating alpha synuclein the microglia were not becoming activated (a key feature in the Parkinsonian brain).
The researchers next began administering antibiotics to see if they could replicate the effects that they were seeing in the germ-free mice. Remarkably, alpha-synuclein producing mice injected with antibiotics exhibited very little dysfunction in the motor behaviour tasks, and they closely resembling mice born under germ-free conditions.
How antibiotics work. Source: MLB
Antibiotics kill bacteria via many different mechanisms (eg. disrupting the cell membrane or targeting protein synthesis; see image above), and they have previously demonstrated efficacy in models of Parkinson’s disease. We shall come back to this in a section below.
The researchers in the study next asked if the microbiome of people with Parkinson’s disease could affect the behaviour of their germ free mice. They took samples of gut bacteria from 6 people who were newly diagnosed (and treatment naive) with Parkinson’s disease and from 6 healthy age matched control samples. These samples were then injected into the guts of germ free mice… and guess what happened.
The germ-free mice injected with gut samples from Parkinsonian subjects performed worse on the behavioural tasks than those injected with samples from healthy subjects. This finding suggested that the gut microbiome of people with Parkinson’s disease has the potential to influence vulnerable mice.
Note the wording of that last sentence.
Importantly, the researchers noted that when they attempted this experiment in normal mice they observed no difference in the behaviour of the mice regardless of which gut samples were injected (Parkinsonian or healthy). This suggests that an abundance of alpha synuclein is required for the effect, and that the microbiome of the gut is exacerbating the effect.
So what does it all mean?
If it can be replicated (and there will now be a frenzy of research groups attempting this), it would be a BIG step forward for the field of Parkinson’s disease research. Firstly, it could represent a new and more disease-relevant model of Parkinson’s disease with which drugs can be tested (it should be noted however that very little investigation of the brain was made in this study. For example, we have no idea of what the dopamine system looks like in the affected mice – we hope that this analysis is ongoing and will form the results of a future publication).
The results may also explain the some of the environmental factors that are believed to contribute to Parkinson’s disease. Epidemiological evidence has linked certain pesticide exposure to the incidence Parkinson’s disease, and the condition is associated with agricultural backgrounds (for more on this click here). It is important to reinforce here that the researchers behind this study are very careful in not suggesting that Parkinson’s disease is starting in the gut, merely that the microbiome may be playing a role in the etiology of this condition.
The study may also mean that we should investigate novel treatments focused on the gut rather than the brain. This approach could involve anything from fecal transplants to antibiotics.
EDITORIAL NOTE HERE: While there are one or two anecdotal reports of fecal transplants having beneficial effect in Parkinson’s disease, they are few and far between. There have never been any comprehensive, peer-reviewed preclinical or clinical studies conducted. Such an approach, therefore, should be considered EXTREMELY experimental and not undertaken without seeking independent medical advice. We have mentioned it here only for the purpose of inserting this warning.
Has there been any research into antibiotics in Parkinson’s disease?
You might be surprised to hear this, but ‘Yes there has’. Numerous studies have been conducted. In particular, this one:
Title: Minocycline prevents nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurodegeneration in the MPTP model of Parkinson’s disease.
Author: Du Y, Ma Z, Lin S, Dodel RC, Gao F, Bales KR, Triarhou LC, Chernet E, Perry KW, Nelson DL, Luecke S, Phebus LA, Bymaster FP, Paul SM.
Journal: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Dec 4;98(25):14669-74.
PMID: 11724929 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
In this research study, the researchers gave the antibiotic ‘Minocycline’ to mice in which Parkinson’s disease was being modelled via the injection of a neurotoxin that specifically kills dopamine neurons (called MPTP).
Minocycline is a tetracycline antibiotic that works by inhibiting bacterial protein synthesis. It has also been shown to exert neuroprotective effects in different models of neurodegeneration via several pathways, primarily anti-inflammatory and inhibiting microglial activation.
The researchers found that Minocycline demonstrated neuroprotective properties in cell cultures so they then tested it in mice. When the researchers gave Minocycline to their ‘Parkinsonian’ mice, they found that it inhibited inflammatory activity of glial cells and thus protected the dopamine cells from dying (compared to control mice that did not receive Minocycline).
Have there been any clinical trials of antibiotic?
Again (surprisingly): Yes.
Title: A pilot clinical trial of creatine and minocycline in early Parkinson disease: 18-month results.
Authors: NINDS NET-PD Investigators..
Journal: Clin Neuropharmacol. 2008 May-Jun;31(3):141-50.
PMID: 18520981 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
This research report was the follow up of a 12 month clinical study that can be found by clicking here. The researchers had taken two hundred subjects with Parkinson’s disease and randomly sorted them into the three groups: creatine (an over-the-counter nutritional supplement), minocycline, and placebo (control). All of the participants were diagnosed less than 5 years before the start of the study.
At 12 months, both creatine and minocycline were noted as not interfering with the beneficial effects of symptomatic therapy (such as L-dopa), but a worrying trend began with subjects dropping out of the minocycline arm of the study.
At the 18 month time point, approximately 61% creatine-treated subjects had begun to take additional treatments (such as L-dopa) for their symptoms, compared with 62% of the minocycline-treated subjects and 60% placebo-treated subjects. This result suggested that there was no beneficial effect from using either creatine or minocycline in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, as neither exhibited any greater effect than the placebo.
Was that the only clinical trial?
Another clinical trial, targeted a particular type of gut bacteria: Helicobacter pylori (which we have discussed in a previous post – click here for more on that).
Title: Eradication of Helicobacter pylori infection improves levodopa action, clinical symptoms and quality of life in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Hashim H, Azmin S, Razlan H, Yahya NW, Tan HJ, Manaf MR, Ibrahim NM.
Journal: PLoS One. 2014 Nov 20;9(11):e112330.
PMID: 25411976 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
In this study, the researchers recruited 82 people with Parkinson’s disease. A total of 27 (32.9%) of those subjects had positive tests for Helicobacter pylori, and those participants had significantly poorer clinical scores compared to Helicobacter pylori-negative subjects. The researcher gave the participants a drug that kills Helicobacter pylori, and then twelve weeks later the researchers found improvements in levodopa onset time and effect duration, as well as better scores in motor performance and quality of life measures.
The researchers concluded that the screening and eradication of Helicobacter pylori is inexpensive and should be recommended for people with Parkinson’s disease, especially those with minimal responses to levodopa. Other experiments suggest that Helicobacter pylori is influencing some people’s response to L-dopa (click here for more on that).
Some concluding thoughts
While we congratulate the authors of the microbiome study published in the journal Cell for an impressive piece of work, we are cautious in approaching the conclusions of the study.
All really good research will open the door to lots of new questions, and the Cell paper published last week has certainly done this. But as we have suggested above, the results need to be independently replicated before we can get to excited about them. So while the media may be making a big fuss about this study, we’ll wait for (and report here) the follow-up, replication studies by independent labs before calling this REALLY ‘important stuff’.
The banner for today’s post was sourced from the Huffington Post