Could the Appendix Play a Role in Parkinson’s?

A new study published in  Science Translational Medicine suggests the appendix may play a key role in the development of Parkinson’s disease. The study, which examined health data from 1.6 million Swedes, found that people who had an appendectomy were 20 percent less likely than those with an appendix to develop Parkinson’s. Not only that, but clumps of the protein previously associated with the condition were discovered in the appendix and other parts of the digestive system, adding to existing evidence linking the gut with brain disease.

The new finding helps solidify the developing view Parkinson’s is not just a motor disorder characterised by tremors, stiffness and imbalanced walking—but a whole-body condition that often involves the digestive system, says lead author Viviane Labrie, an assistant professor at the Van Andel Research Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science.

Researchers also looked at data from The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s (MJFF) Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative and discovered that an appendectomy was associated with a 3.6 year delay in disease onset among people who had the surgery and later developed Parkinson’s. (Researchers caution that this does not mean people can undergo an appendectomy to eliminate Parkinson’s risk.)

Commenting on these findings, Rachel Dolhun, MD, vice president of medical communications at MJFF, told the Los Angeles Times:

“It’s a piece to the puzzle. It suggests protein misfolding might happen in peripheral organs to be an initiating factor in [Parkinson’s] disease, and that the appendix might be an organ that could contribute.”

“But it’s important to stress these are associations and do not establish causation,” she said. “In other words, having an appendectomy will not definitely decrease [the] risk of Parkinson’s.”

Dolhun added, “Investigating the association between the gut and brain further could potentially lead to deeper understandings of the causes of Parkinson’s, as well as how Parkinson’s starts and progresses, and how to intervene to stop it. But much work remains to be done.”

 To Learn more watch this video from Viviane Labrie, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Scienceappendix

In this video Dr Labrie discusses how rather than removing the appendix a better approach might be able to control the levels of inflammation in the GI tract.

Last week we released an exciting development from a study funded by Shake It Up and The Michael J. Fox Foundation which found that a small molecule MCC950 stopped the progression of Parkinson’s by treating inflammation.  This study was undertaken at The University of Queensland and found that the molecule effectively ‘cooled the brains on fire’, turning down microglial inflammatory activity, and allowing neurons to function normally.  Read more about this study.