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NIAID

For decades, scientists have suspected that the immune system is involved in Parkinson's disease but didn't know how because the body's defenses don't typically target neurons. Researchers now report that immune cells may be attacking a protein that builds up in the brain when someone has the disease. The finding suggests an avenue for new treatment by blocking the immune response with drugs.

What they did: Researchers analyzed blood from 67 patients with Parkinson's disease and 36 healthy people, and found that in people with the disease the body's immune T cells recognized neurons displaying specific fragments of a protein called alpha-synuclein, which accumulates in the brain when someone has Parkinson's. In healthy people, there was no response.

How it might work: The reaction to specific pieces of the protein is key - it could explain why immune reaction is localized to particular neurons. The immune system may recognize alpha-synuclein as foreign and try to clear it, in the process destroying dopamine-producing neurons where the protein accumulates. Those neurons are at the center of Parkinson's - depleting dopamine causes the disease's hallmark tremors. Most neurons don't produce the molecules that the immune system recognizes and then attacks - but the dopamine-producing ones do.

"It's a novel idea. If it holds up, it will shift the paradigm for understanding the disease," says NIH's Mark Cookson, who wasn't involved in the study.

Big question: Does the immune system target these neurons or is the reaction is inadvertent? That would indicate whether the reaction can be blocked with drugs - something the researchers plan to test.

Go deeper

17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

McConnell drops filibuster demand, paving way for power-sharing deal

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attend a joint session of Congress. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has abandoned his demand that Democrats state, in writing, that they would not abandon the legislative filibuster.

Between the lines: McConnell was never going to agree to a 50-50 power sharing deal without putting up a fight over keeping the 60-vote threshold. But the minority leader ultimately caved after it became clear that delaying the organizing resolution was no longer feasible.

Scoop: Google won't donate to members of Congress who voted against election results

Sen. Ted Cruz led the group of Republicans who opposed certifying the results. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Google will not make contributions from its political action committee this cycle to any member of Congress who voted against certifying the results of the presidential election, following the deadly Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Several major businesses paused or pulled political donations following the events of Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters, riled up by former President Trump, stormed the Capitol on the day it was to certify the election results.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Minority Mitch still setting Senate agenda

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Chuck Schumer may be majority leader, yet in many ways, Mitch McConnell is still running the Senate show — and his counterpart is about done with it.

Why it matters: McConnell rolled over Democrats unapologetically, and kept tight control over his fellow Republicans, while in the majority. But he's showing equal skill as minority leader, using political jiujitsu to convert a perceived weakness into strength.

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