Jun 24, 2017

Immune system may turn on the brain in Parkinson's disease

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.

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World coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases top 1.2 million

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The number of novel coronavirus cases surpassed 1.2 million worldwide Saturday night, as Spain overtook Italy as the country with the most infections outside the U.S.

The big picture: About half the planet's population is now on lockdown and the global death toll was nearing 64,800, by Sunday morning, per Johns Hopkins data.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll surpasses 8,500

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 8,500 in the U.S. early Sunday, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day for the past four days, since April 1.

The big picture: President Trump said Saturday America's is facing its "toughest" time "between this week and next week." Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said U.S. deaths are expected to continue to rise during this period.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health