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Insidermedicine In Depth - May 16, 2012

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Published on May 17, 2012

Parkinson's disease may actually start in the intestines, causing changes in the nerve cells that may be detected years before motor symptoms begin, according to research published in Movement Disorders.

Here is some information about Parkinson's disease:

• It is a disorder associated with aging in which nerve and brain cells associated with movement start to deteriorate

• It affects an estimated 5 million people worldwide

• It is estimated that it will affect 10 million people worldwide by 2030

Researchers from of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago took nerve tissue samples of the wall of the lower intestine from patients with early Parkinson's disease as well as healthy adults who were undergoing colonoscopy or a similar but less invasive procedure known as a sigmoidoscopy.

Examination of the nerve tissue among the patients with Parkinson's disease revealed the presence of clumps of a protein known as alpha-synuclein. These very same protein clumps are what make up Lewy bodies in the brain, which is the hallmark of Parkinson's disease. Similar protein clumps were absent in the tissue taken from healthy adults. These findings are all the more interesting because several of the patients with Parkinson's in the study were in such an early stage of the disease that they had not developed any of the movement difficulties associated with the condition.

We spoke with Dr. Kathleen Shannon, PI of this study, who offered some further insight.

Today's research suggests that, in the near future, screening for Parkinson's disease could be paired with routine colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy screenin

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