Is Parkinson’s Actually Two Diseases?

Parkinson’s is well known for its devastating effects on the human body. But suppose this condition is actually two separate diseases? A new study suggests that this could be the case.

A Better Look

This study appeared in the neurology journal Brain, and was led by a pair of Danish researchers. For this report, the authors examined participants with Parkinson’s disease using both PET and MRI imaging techniques. In addition to these subjects, the study also included adults at a high risk of Parkinson’s, but with no actual history of the disease. For example, Parkinson’s has been found to post a greater threat to those living with REM sleep behavior syndrome.

Thanks to these imaging scans, the research team was able to pinpoint areas of the body that had sustained Parkinson’s-related damage. Some subjects initially exhibited damage in their brain’s dopamine system, before problems appeared with their intestines and heart. For other participants, the story was quite different, with the impact of Parkinson’s first showing in the heart and intestines before spreading to the brain’s dopamine producing region.

Through the Brain Or The Body

So what do these findings mean? Study co-author Per Borghammer contends that Parkinson’s may develop in two separate patterns, rather than following a singular route of attack. “Until now, many people have viewed the disease as relatively homogeneous and defined it based on the classical movement disorders. But at the same time, we’ve been puzzled about why there was such a big difference between patient symptoms,” stated Borghammer. “With this new knowledge, the different symptoms make more sense and this is also the perspective in which future research should be viewed.”

According to the authors, the two types of Parkinson’s could be thought of as either body first or brain first. With this knowledge in hand, the researchers contend that it may be possible to improve the treatment received by Parkinson’s patients. “It has long since been demonstrated that Parkinson’s patients have a different microbiome in the intestines than healthy people, without us truly understanding the significance of this,” added Borghammer. “Now that we’re able to identify the two types of Parkinson’s disease, we can examine the risk factors and possible genetic factors that may be different for the two types. The next step is to examine whether, for example, body-first Parkinson’s disease can be treated by treating the intestines with feces transplantation or in other ways that affect the microbiome.”

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