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Specialized Immune Cells May Improve Early Detection of Parkinson’s Disease

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Feinberg School of Medicine News

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An elevated presence of specialized immune cells called alpha-synuclein reactive T-cells were found in patients prior to developing motor symptoms and receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, suggesting that increased reactivity of these cells may be present long before clinical diagnosis, according to a recent study published in Nature Communications.

The findings may be used to improve early detection of Parkinson’s disease by indicating increased reactivity of the cells prior to the appearance of motor symptoms and clinical diagnosis, as well as help understand the role of the immune system and inflammation in the pathogenesis of the disease.

“Early detection of Parkinson’s disease, in its prodromal or early clinically symptomatic stages, provides an opportunity to intervene at its earliest stages and potentially affect disease progression or disease symptomatology. These findings may ultimately lead to novel treatments for Parkinson’s disease that modulate the immune system,” said Jennifer Goldman, ’98 MD, MS, professor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology and a co-author of the study.

Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects more than ten million people worldwide, presents with both motor and non-motor symptoms in patients. Early stages of the disease are characterized by non-motor symptoms such as constipation, sleep disorders and a reduced ability to smell, and is followed by motor symptoms, when the actual diagnosis is usually made.

Previous studies have shown that T-cells and the immune system play a role in neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. Specifically, certain T-cell epitopes — specific parts of an antigen to which an antibody binds and leads to an immune system response — related to alpha-synuclein are preferentially recognized in Parkinson’s disease patients, as well as T-cells in regions attacked by the disease.

Read the full story at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.

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