Researchers have reported that the ability of gut bacteria to break down fat is disrupted in people with Parkinson’s, resulting in issues with the production of bile acid (important for the breakdown and absorption of fats and vitamins from food in the gut).

In recent years, there has been accumulating evidence that the gut may be playing an influential role in Parkinson’s, but the underlying biology of that process has remained elusive.

Several years ago, researchers at Van Andel Institute, Michigan reported – using two independent medical databases – that the removal of the appendix reduced the risk of a person developing Parkinson’s. In addition, the scientists found that the appendix from healthy (non-Parkinson’s) individuals contained a large proportion of the Parkinson’s associated protein alpha-synuclein.

That same team of researchers has now followed up their first study, publishing the results of their research examining the populations of gut bacteria found in the appendix. They found that in people with Parkinson’s, there is an increase in levels of bacteria in the appendix that are involved with the production of bile acids. This increase is associated with a disruption in the gut bacteria’s ability to break down fat, making regulation of bile acid more difficult. That disruption could potentially lead to gut-related issues and cause inflammation which may be having a role on the progression of Parkinson’s.

This result is particularly interesting as it points towards a mechanism by which the bacteria of the gut and bile acids may be influencing the course of Parkinson’s. In addition, the data provides support for Cure Parkinson’s funded “UDCA in Parkinson’s” (or UP study) clinical trial. UDCA is a treatment that is used to treat gallstones and is being repurposed as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s. The UP study has now finished, and we are hoping to see the results later this year.

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