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The Immune System and Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease, or PD, is a disorder that attacks the nervous system, leading to tremors and other unconscious movement. It is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases, second only to Alzheimer’s disease, and can be devastating to one’s quality of life, making everyday activities such as speaking or walking very difficult. Recent research has shown that the immune system is a main factor in the development of Parkinson’s and its progression.

PD, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NNDS), will affect more than double the amount of people it currently affects in just 20 years; there is no currently known cure, and the costs, annually, of treatment in just the United States is 14 billion dollars. Aubrey Schonhoff of the University of Alabama at Birmingham works on trying to change this by focusing on the immune system instead of the nervous system. states the following:

“The brain does have its own immune system in the form of microglia – specialized cells that act as macrophages in the brain, surveying the tissue and clearing debris and cellular waste. In a person with Parkinson’s disease, these microglia begin to express the protein major histocompatibility complex II (MHC-II), which is used for antigen presentation – essentially to induce immune processes in response to a foreign antigen. Additionally, histology of brains of Parkinson’s patients reveal an infiltration of T-cells; an immune cell that isn’t typically seen in large amounts in the brain.”

This text demonstrates how the immune system relates to the brain in the form of microglia, a small type of glial cell that acts as the brain’s system, and T-cells, immune cells that are found in oddly large proportions in the brain of those who have Parkinson’s disease. In her study, Schonhoff targeted border-associated macrophages, or BAMs, between the blood-brain barrier and the systemic vasculature. As a result of the removal of these BAMs, the amount of T-cells in the brain decreased greatly, demonstrating that these BAMs may be a main reason for the development of Parkinson’s disease.

These findings show that there is hope for a cure for Parkinson’s disease. As demonstrated by the promising results of Schonhoff’s study, instead of continually looking into only the nervous system for answers, researchers should also think about explore how other systems may be connected to Parkinson’s disease. With dedicated investigation and innovative approaches, a brighter future for those impacted by Parkinson’s might be closer than we think.

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