A new study co-led by scientists at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) adds increasing evidence that Parkinson’s disease is partly an autoimmune disease. In fact, the researchers report that signs of autoimmunity can appear in Parkinson’s disease patients years before their official diagnosis.
The research could make it possible to someday detect Parkinson’s disease before the onset of debilitating motor symptoms–and potentially intervene with therapies to slow the disease progression.
The study, published in the April 20, 2020, issue of Nature Communications, was co-led by LJI professor Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol. Sci, and Professor David Sulzer, Ph.D., of the Columbia University Medical Center.
Scientists have long known that clumps of a damaged protein called alpha-synuclein build up in the dopamine-producing brain cells of patients with Parkinson’s disease. These clumps eventually lead to cell death, causing motor symptoms and cognitive decline.
“Once these cells are gone, they’re gone. So if you are able to diagnose the disease as early as possible, it could make a huge difference,” says LJI research assistant professor Cecilia Lindestam Arlehamn, Ph.D., who served as first author of the new study.