A new study published in the journal ‘Neuron’ has found more evidence that Parkinson’s starts in the gut and travels to the brain via the body’s nerve cells.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine conducted studies in mice to investigate whether the toxic misfolded alpha-synuclein protein, which is a hallmark of Parkinson’s, could travel along the vagus nerve, which runs like an electrical cable between the stomach and small intestine into the base of the brain. This study was prompted by previous research by German neuroanatomist, Heiko Braak, that showed people with Parkinson’s had a build-up of the misfolded alpha-synuclein in parts of the central nervous system that control the gut.

Evidence from Johns Hopkins Medicine showed that alpha-synuclein began building where the vagus nerve connected to the gut and continued to spread through all parts of the brain. It also demonstrated that blocking the transmission route could be key to preventing the physical and cognitive manifestations of Parkinson’s.

These findings provide further proof of the gut’s role in Parkinson’s, and gives us a model to study the disease’s progression from the start. This is an exciting discovery for the field and presents a target for early intervention in the disease.

Professor Ted Dawson, M.D. Ph.D, Director of Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, Professor of Neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of CP’s International Linked Clinical Trials committee