Gut–brain axis and the spread of α‐synuclein pathology: vagal highway or dead end?



Spread of α‐synuclein pathology from the peripheral to central nervous system may be an important etiological factor in Parkinson’s disease, although there are some unanswered questions about its correlation with neuronal loss. Experimental evidence has highlighted the gastrointestinal tract as a potential starting point for aggregated α‐synuclein, with the vagus nerve acting as a “highway” by which pathology may be transmitted to the lower brain stem. This review begins by highlighting the key studies demonstrating that α‐synuclein pathology has the ability to spread from certain sites in the gastrointestinal tract to the brain (and vice versa). We go on to assess the recent epidemiological studies that have shown that vagotomy and appendectomy may have the potential to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Finally, we discuss the factors in the gastrointestinal tract (such as dysbiosis of the gut microbiota, infection, and inflammation) that may trigger α‐synuclein aggregation in the first place, as well as other potential mechanisms underlying the distribution of α‐synuclein pathology in the brain. © 2019 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society


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