Medical researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg have examined the state of T cells in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients, as published in Cell Stem Cell.
Parkinson’s disease, formerly also referred to as shaking palsy, is one of the most frequent disorders affecting movement and the nervous system.
Currently, approximately 4.1 million people suffer from Parkinson’s disease throughout the globe, in Germany alone more than 300,000 people are affected. Typical symptoms of the disease are slowness of movement, rigidity, frequent shaking and an increasingly stooped posture. The cause is the continuous death of nerve cells in the brain, which produce the messenger substance dopamine.
Scientists are working to gain insights into the mechanisms which lead to the loss of nerve cells that produce dopamine. Until now, little has been known about whether human immune cells have an important role to play in Parkinson’s disease.
The stem cell researchers from Erlangen showed that in Parkinson’s disease, T cells attack and kill nerve cells which produce dopamine in the midbrain.
The FAU team based its research on a surprising observation: an unusually high number of T cells in the midbrain of Parkinson’s patients.
These cells are commonly found in the brains of patients suffering from diseases in which the immune system attacks the brain.
During tests carried out in collaboration with the movement disorders clinic (Molecular Neurology) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen (Prof. Jürgen Winkler), researchers discovered an increased number of certain T cells in Parkinson’s patients. Specifically, these were Th17 cells, similar to patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Consequently, the researchers decided to develop a very unusual cell culture from human cells. A small skin sample was taken from affected patients and healthy test subjects.
These skin cells were converted into stem cells, and differentiated into midbrain nerve cells specific to the patient.
These midbrain nerve cells were then brought into contact with fresh T cells from the same patients.
The result: the immune cells of Parkinson’s patients killed a large number of their nerve cells, but this did not appear to be the case with healthy test subjects.
Visual abstract of the study. Image credit: Sommer et al. 2018
Another result gives reason for hope: antibodies which block the effect of Th17 cells, including one antibody which is already being used daily in the hospital to treat psoriasis, were able to largely prevent the death of the nerve cells.
‘Thanks to our investigations, we were able to clearly prove not only that T cells are involved in causing Parkinson’s disease, but also what role they actually play,’ explains Prof. Dr. Beate Winner. ‘The findings from our study offer a significant basis for new methods of treating Parkinson’s disease.’
This article has been republished from materials provided by the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.