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Immune system attacks the brain in Alzheimer's, study suggests

Published on 22/06/17 at 10:58am

New research has identified direct evidence that the body’s immune system attacks the brain in Parkinson’s disease, seemingly confirming a theory of ‘autoimmunity’ which was first posited almost 100 years ago. The discovery could lead to strides forward in the treatment of the disease, with the research suggesting that immune system-suppressing drugs could be used to manage it.

The research, conducted at the Columbia University Medical Center and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, examined the blood of 67 Alzheimer’s sufferers and found that immune system T-cells were identifying a threat in alpha-synuclein, a protein which accumulates in the brain as a result of the disease, and was launching an attack. This leads to the death of brain cells as the T-cells attempt to kill the protein.

"Our findings raise the possibility that an immunotherapy approach could be used to increase the immune system's tolerance for alpha-synuclein, which could help to ameliorate or prevent worsening symptoms in Parkinson's disease patients," explained Dr Alessandro Sette, a researcher at the La Jolla Institute.

Parkinson's UK’s David Dexter also commented on the findings, noting: "This research lends weight to the radical idea that the condition may involve the immune system becoming confused and damaging our own cells. We still need to understand more about how the immune system may be involved in the complex chain of events that contribute to Parkinson's. Ultimately this presents an exciting new avenue to explore to help develop new treatments that may be able to slow or stop the condition in its tracks."

Matt Fellows

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