Intestinal bacteria help to prevent Parkinson's disease

– Feb. 5, 2020

We are learning more and more about the human microbiome. All the bacteria, yeasts and other microbes on and in our bodies are indispensable. They help us to digest our food, produce vitamins and hormones and train our immune system. Researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Dundee have now discovered that the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, a common intestinal bacterium, could even help to prevent the progression of Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease is a disorder that slowly kills off the nerve cells in the central nervous system. The cause of the disease is still unknown. Parkinson's disease is thought to be caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Greater clarity now exists about one of these environmental factors; the bacterium B. subtilis prevents the formation of certain proteins that are toxic to nerve cells. 

Ally against aggregation

To be precise, the α-synuclein protein, which aggregates in nerve cells, is the problem. Alpha-synuclein is a necessary protein in human cells that helps to keep the DNA intact. If this protein starts to aggregate abnormally, however, it becomes toxic to nerve cells and causes them to die off slowly. B. subtilis produces substances that inhibit this aggregation. These substances are absorbed in the intestines and flow through the bloodstream into every part of the human body.

Intestinal resident on duty

B. subtilis is one of the most exhaustively studied bacteria. In fact, before antibiotics were introduced, B. subtilis was regularly used as an alternative treatment for gastrointestinal complaints. Research shows that this bacterium positively affects our digestion and produces a range of antibiotic substances of its own. This intestinal resident therefore satisfies the definition of a probiotic bacterium, since it is a living micro-organism that is beneficial to our health. However, such benefits are often difficult to prove scientifically and may vary from one person to the next.

Although the Parkinson's research is still at an early stage, the researchers are optimistic. This publication once again shows that microbes in our intestines can greatly benefit our health.