Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine located in Hershey wanted to know for sure if exposure to paraquat could increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and ended up discovering how the disease actually starts taking shape in the gut before affecting the brain. Parkinson’s is a brain based degenerative condition that causes brain cells which monitor motor control nerves to slowly break down. This leads to rigidity and tremor in the body along with several physical and psychological changes that can even render a person immobile. As this condition is generally prevalent in old adults it becomes a big problem for them to manage alone.
Researchers discovered a few decades ago that exposure to a herbicide called paraquat that was once widely used in United States could cause this disease which led to nationwide ban in US in 2007. Parkinson patients have a protein called alpha-synuclein that clumps together in the brain in the form of large structures called Lewy bodies that kill brain cells over a period of time. Scientists knew that paraquat was somehow involved in Parkinson’s disease but were of the opinion that genetic makeup and environment also plays a significant role.
The study results published in NPJ Parkinson’s Disease were carried out after scientists carried out experiments on lab rats to test their theory about why the disease does not occur in everyone exposed to paraquat and the progress of this disease. According to scientific belief alpha-synuclein moves along the vagus nerve that connects stomach and brain that also has a direct link to substantia nigra which is the main suspect for causing Parkinson’s disease. Co-author Prof Thyagarajan Subramanian stated that during this study they discovered how even low levels of oral paraquat exposure when combined with lectins found in grains, vegetables etc., could trigger formation of alpha synuclein in the gut. This protein can then travel up from vagus nerve to the brain section that triggers onset of Parkinson’s disease.