Associations Between Gut Microbiome and Risk of Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease

It is becoming clear that there are correlations between the composition of the gut microbiome and risk of suffering neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. The gut microbiome changes with age, the populations of inflammatory microbes growing in size, while microbes that create beneficial metabolites are diminished in number. Even only considering the effects of additional chronic inflammation in later life, it is clear that a more inflammatory gut microbiome is harmful. There may be other ways in which gut-resident microbes can contribute to neurodegenerative conditions, however. Finding associations is just the start of the research process, but it does indicate that greater emphasis should be placed on the known ways to restore a youthful balance of microbes in the gut, such as fecal microbiota transplantation.

Researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of all of the genetic material found in the gut of 420 participants from two large epidemiological studies - the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They found a consistently lower abundance of certain types of anti-inflammatory, anaerobic bacteria in people with Parkinson's disease. This change was also noticeable among study participants who experienced early signs of Parkinson's disease, which can predate the onset of the classic motor symptoms by many years.

"These species of bacteria are known for their role in reducing inflammation in the gut. This depletion supports a potential link between gut inflammation and Parkinson's disease (PD). The fact that we see these changes before a PD diagnosis suggests that, in the future, the gut microbiome may serve as a biomarker for identifying the earliest phases of PD. This has the potential to revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment, as early detection is often key to developing new therapies."

Researchers are now turning their attention to new research that examines the connection between the microbiome and Alzheimer's disease. The brain disorder slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Researchers are conducting the largest comprehensive study of the microbiome in Latinos to better understand the link between the gut microbiome and Alzheimer's disease. The researchers will study participants in the ongoing Boston Puerto Rican Health Study (BPRHS), a long-term research project launched in 2004. With updated cognitive assessments and the analysis of MRI brain scans and blood and stool samples, the research team will identify the gut composition in each participant, the function of each species of bacteria, and any harmful molecules that could cause disruption in the brain.


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