Viruses Targeting Gut Bacteria May Be Players in Parkinson’s Disease, Study Suggests

Viruses Targeting Gut Bacteria May Be Players in Parkinson’s Disease, Study Suggests

Viruses that infect bacteria, known as bacteriophages, may contribute to the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease by unsettling the variety and number of the gut’s microbiota, a study reports.

These findings, in the study “Bacteriophages: are They An Overlooked Driver of Parkinson’S Disease?”, were recently presented at ASM Microbe 2018, the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology that took place in Atlanta, Georgia.

The microbiota of the human intestinal tract — its microbe population — consists of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including bacteriophages. Growing evidence suggests that alterations to the gut microbiota can trigger diseases associated with increased intestinal permeability and chronic inflammation. (Intestinal permeability refers to degree to which material from the gastrointestinal tract “passes” into the body through the gut wall.)

Researchers led by George Tetz, with the Human Microbiology Institute in New York, showed in previous work in a rat model that bacteriophages could change the levels of various bacteria that reside in the gut.

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Now, working with Parkinson’s patients, the team analyzed the composition of bacterial and bacteriophage communities found in fecal samples collected from 32 patients  and 28 healthy controls.

Compared to controls, people with Parkinson’s had reduced levels of certain strains of bacteria that are known to be an important source of microbiota-derived neurochemicals, such as dopamine, and to regulate gut permeability (the passing of material from the gastrointestinal tract into the body through the gut wall).

Each of the events found in the patients have been implicated in Parkinson’s onset and progression.

In particular, researchers recorded a 10-fold reduction in the neurotransmitter-producing bacteria called Lactococcus, suggesting a possible role of bacteriophages in neurodegeneration. Significant decreases in Streptococcus and Lactobacillus amounts in Parkinson’s patients were also observed.

Of note, the lower-than-usual levels of Lactococci observed in patients was due to the appearance of virulent lactococcal phages that are frequently isolated from dairy products.

Based on these findings, the researchers considered it necessary “to pay attention to bacteriophages (including environmental phages) in human health” as they may be “previously overlooked” disease-causing microorganisms.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to suggest a link between bacteriophages and Parkinson’s disease,” researchers wrote.

Additional studies are necessary to further evaluate how these bacterial viruses affect Parkinson’s, and to understand their potential as diagnostic and therapeutic targets.

6 comments

  1. pamela desselle says:

    pamela has always had a problem with her gut, and has either msa-p or some other form of parkinson-which have developed late in life, however gut problems have been there all along

    how can we participate

    new orleans

  2. Darlene Truax says:

    My husband, age 74 began experiencing signs of Parkinson’s 6 years ago, diagnosed 1.5 years ago. He had stomach cancer in 1995 and was resected (removal of half of his stomach, 3 inches of esophagus). I am wondering of he’s been lacking the good bacteria. When he’s had endoscopy I believe the Dr. is looking only for bad bacteria. I found this article very informative and interesting. Thank you.

  3. Richard R. says:

    I suffered from heartburn for years before I was diagnosed with small ulcers in my esophagus. The Gastroenterologist suggested that I take Prilosec which soon blocked the acid from going up to the esophagus. I took Prilosec for about 10 years straight as my gastro said that there were few side effects. Prilosec not only took away the bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria. My father basically took the same medicine. He also suffered from tremors. I’m wondering whether the long term usage of Prilosec may have contributed to my parkinsons diagnosis. Note: I stopped taking Prilosec years ago and no more ulcers formed.

  4. Dr A Ramya says:

    iam an ayurvedic physician…doing cases of parkinsons…the link between gut and neurological functions is well evidentg from our observaions… be it in parkinsons,, even alzheimers ..we find chronic constipation…in the background… ayurveda strongly advocates the same principle…it links the vata the functional element that controls neurological functions and agni the metabolic element that controls the activity of gut has to be corrected for getting results in such cases….

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