Immune System’s Role in Parkinson’s Disease Identified

Although multiple independent studies have provided evidence of the involvement of central and peripheral immune and inflammatory processes in PD, determining the cause-and-effect relationship between neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration in PD is difficult to determine as the initiating event(s) occur many years before neuronal loss and clinical manifestations arise. There is growing evidence, however, that inflammation might play a causative role in PD rather than being a consequence or an epiphenomenon of the neurodegenerative process.

“PD risk is influenced by many factors including a mix of immunogenetics and the environment, such as infection history,” commented Guest Editors Bastiaan R. Bloem, MD, PhD; Patrik Brundin, MD, PhD; Ashley Harms, PhD; Cecilia Lindestam Arlehamn, PhD, Eng King Tan, MD; and Caroline Williams-Gray, PhD. Various experimental models developed in recent years suggest that there is evidence of an association between autoimmune conditions and the immune system or its aberrant responses in patients with PD.


Topics included various experimental models:

  • Immunogenetic determinants of PD
  • Epidemiological evidence for an immune component of PD
  • Influence of infections and the microbiome
  • Links between the GBA1 gene and immune changes in PD
  • The role of T lymphocytes
  • The role of B lymphocytes
  • Natural killer cells in PD
  • Age-related immune changes in PD
  • Microglial activation in the brains of patients with neurodegenerative disorders including PD
  • Current evidence and knowledge gaps around inflammasome activation in PD
  • The role of central and peripheral inflammation
  • Neuroinflammation and immune changes in prodromal PD
  • Inflammatory animal models of PD
  • Biomarkers of inflammation in PD
  • Therapeutic strategies targeting the immune system in PD

A review article by Benjamin D. Hobson, MD/PhD student, and David Sulzer, PhD, both of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, focuses on how peripheral T lymphocytes can enter into brain areas that are primarily affected in PD.

Recent Research in Parkinson’s Disease

Neurons in these brain regions can present antigens bound to Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class 1 molecules on the cell surface and signal the cell’s physiological state to immune cells (such as T cells). Certain subtypes of T cells (CD8+) have been shown to bind to the antigen: MHC class 1 complex on the cell surface, promoting further immune responses that lead to cell damage and eventually, death of the neurons.

“Recent animal models suggest the possibility of T cell autoreactivity to mitochondrial antigens in PD,” noted Dr. Sulzer. “However, it remains unclear if neuronal antigen presentation plays a role in PD or other neurodegenerative disorders, and efforts are underway to better understand the potential impact of autoimmune responses on neurodegeneration.”

“In summary, multiple independent studies in clinical and preclinical models have provided corroborative evidence of the involvement of central and peripheral immune and inflammatory processes in PD,” noted the guest editors. “Our knowledge of how the immune system contributes to PD pathogenesis is constantly evolving, with increasing evidence for the role of several genes and susceptibility loci.”

A major challenge is to use these data and knowledge to identify specific targets within the immune system or target major pathogenic proteins involved in aberrant immune responses; and potentially identify subsets of patients who are more likely to respond to immune modulatory therapies.

“Clinical trials targeting alpha-synuclein have already commenced, and both clinical and experimental trials focusing on different immune components are ongoing,” commented co-guest editor and JPD’s co-editor-in-chief Bastiaan R. Bloem, MD, PhD, Center of Expertise for Parkinson & Movement Disorders, Radboud University Medical Centre, Nijmegen.

The Guest Editors emphasize that considerable research is still needed to determine the individual and collective roles of the individual immune cells (and their subsets), and how they interact with each other within the neurovascular units and with alpha-synuclein and other key proteins.

“Longitudinal studies using molecular imaging that measures microglial activation in the brain, and detailed blood and CSF immune function tests and phenotyping in at-risk subjects or prodromic PD may identify crucial clues on the temporal cause-effect relationship between neuroinflammation and PD,” Professor Bloem concluded.

Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive disorder that affects movement, muscle control, and balance. It is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder, affecting about 3% of the population by the age of 65 and up to 5% of individuals over 85 years of age.

Source: Eurekalert

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