Aggressive immune cells aggravate Parkinson's disease

July 20, 2018, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg
Immunohistochemistry for alpha-synuclein showing positive staining (brown) of an intraneural Lewy-body in the Substantia nigra in Parkinson's disease. Credit: Wikipedia

Parkinson's disease, formerly referred to as "shaking palsy," is one of the most common disorders affecting movement and the nervous system. Medical researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have reported a possible cause of the disease in the immune system. The scientists have published their research findings in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Currently, approximately 4.1 million people suffer from Parkinson's disease around the world. In Germany alone, more than 300,000 people are affected. Typical symptoms of the disease are slowness of movement, rigidity, frequent shaking and an increasingly stooped posture. The cause is the continuous death of dopamine-producing in the brain.

Scientists are working to gain insights into the mechanisms that lead to the loss of that produce dopamine. Until now, little has been known about whether have an important role to play in Parkinson's disease. The stem cell researchers Dr. Annika Sommer, Dr. Iryna Prots and Prof. Dr. Beate Winner from FAU and their team have made a major leap forward in research into this aspect of the disease. The scientists from Erlangen were able to prove that in Parkinson's disease, T cells attack and kill nerve cells that produce dopamine in the mid-brain.

The FAU team based its research on a surprising observation: the scientists found an unusually high number of T cells in the midbrain of Parkinson's . These cells are commonly found in the brains of patients suffering from diseases in which the immune system attacks the brain. During tests carried out in collaboration with the movement disorders clinic (molecular neurology) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen (Prof. Jürgen Winkler), researchers discovered an increased number of certain T cells, specifically Th17 cells, in Parkinson's patients, similar to patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

In view of these results, the researchers developed a very unusual cell culture from human cells. A small skin sample was taken from affected patients and healthy test subjects. These skin cells were converted into stem cells, which can develop into any type of cell. The research team then further differentiated these cells into midbrain nerve cells specific to the patient. These midbrain nerve cells were then brought into contact with fresh T cells from the same patients. The result: The immune cells of Parkinson's patients killed a large number of their nerve cells, but this did not appear to be the case with healthy test subjects. Another result gives reason for hope: Antibodies that block the effect of Th17 cells, including one antibody which is in common use to treat psoriasis, largely prevented the death of the nerve cells.

"Thanks to our investigations, we were able to clearly prove not only that T cells are involved in causing Parkinson's disease, but also what role they actually play," explains Prof. Dr. Beate Winner. "The findings from our study offer a significant basis for new methods of treating Parkinson's ."

Explore further: Vitamin B3 has a positive effect on damaged nerve cells in Parkinson's patients

More information: Annika Sommer et al, Th17 Lymphocytes Induce Neuronal Cell Death in a Human iPSC-Based Model of Parkinson's Disease, Cell Stem Cell (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2018.06.015

Related Stories

Vitamin B3 has a positive effect on damaged nerve cells in Parkinson's patients

June 6, 2018
Unsteady hands, stiff muscles and slow movements – all these are typical symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Some 220,000 people in Germany are affected by the disease, which becomes more likely to occur as people get older. ...

New method maps the dopamine system in Parkinson's patients

February 14, 2018
With the aid of a PET camera, researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have developed a new method for investigating the dopamine system in the brains of patients suffering from Parkinson's disease. The method measures ...

Restless sleep may be an early sign of Parkinson's disease

December 6, 2017
Restless sleep could be a sign of a disorder associated with diseases of the brain. Researchers from Aarhus University conducted a case-control study on the condition of the dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain and ...

Study uncovers cause of cell death in Parkinson's disease

February 26, 2018
A University of Guelph researcher has discovered one of the factors behind nerve cell death in Parkinson's disease, unlocking the potential for treatment to slow the progression of this fatal neurodegenerative disorder.

Promising cell study provides hope of effective treatment of Parkinson's disease

April 24, 2018
For the first time, medical doctors and researchers could alleviate serious symptoms of Parkinson's disease, which causes shaking, muscle stiffness and slow movements in those affected. However, before these symptoms appear, ...

Recommended for you

New transgenic model of Parkinson's illuminates disease biology

October 11, 2018
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that presents clinically with abnormal movement and tremors at rest. In the brain, PD is marked by the accumulation of the protein, α-synuclein (αS), into clumps ...

Early Parkinson's patients waiting too long to seek medical evaluation

September 27, 2018
The time between diagnosis and the institution of symptomatic treatment is critical in the effort to find a cure for Parkinson's Disease (PD). A paper published in Nature Partner Journal: Parkinson's Disease notes too many ...

Molecule capable of halting and reverting neurodegeneration caused by Parkinson's disease identified

September 25, 2018
The small SynuClean-D molecule interrupts the formation of the alpha-synuclein amyloid fibres responsible for the onset of Parkinson's disease, and reverts the neurodegeneration caused by the disease. The study, headed by ...

Genomic dark matter activity connects Parkinson's and psychiatric diseases

September 20, 2018
Dopamine neurons are located in the midbrain, but their tendril-like axons can branch far into the higher cortical areas, influencing how we move and how we feel. New genetic evidence has revealed that these specialized cells ...

Gene therapy shown to remove core component of Parkinson's disease

September 14, 2018
An international team led by Rush researcher Jeffrey Kordower, Ph.D., has moved a step closer to developing a treatment to clear brain cells of a protein that is an integral cause of Parkinson's disease. The team published ...

ADHD may increase risk of Parkinson's disease and similar disorders

September 12, 2018
While about 11 percent of children (4-17 years old) nationwide have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the long-term health effects of having ADHD and of common ADHD medications remains understudied. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.