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Aggregates of alpha-synuclein – a protein present in the human brain – are a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. But what triggers the protein’s aggregation has long remained a mystery. New research suggests that bacteria in the gut drive alpha-synuclein aggregation, contributing to the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers isolated a type of bacteria called Desulfovibrio from fecal samples taken from 10 people with Parkinson’s disease and their healthy spouses. Then they fed the bacteria to a type of worm often used to study Parkinson’s disease.

They found that worms fed Desulfovibrio bacteria from people with Parkinson’s disease had more and larger alpha-synuclein aggregates than those fed Desulfovibrio bacteria from healthy people. The Desulfovibrio-fed worms were also more likely to die prematurely.

These findings suggest that Desulfovibrio bacteria contribute to the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease. Learn more about Parkinson’s disease in this episode featuring Dr. Giselle Petzinger.

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