New findings in mice suggest auto-immune mechanisms that originate in the gut are silent drivers of Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder with motor symptoms linked to the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra compacta. Although the mechanisms that trigger the loss of dopaminergic neurons are unclear, mitochondrial dysfunction and inflammation are thought to have key roles.
An early-onset form of Parkinson’s disease is associated with mutations in the PINK1 kinase and PRKN ubiquitin ligase genes. PINK1 and Parkin (encoded by PRKN) are involved in the clearance of damaged mitochondria in cultured cells but recent evidence obtained using knockout and knockin mouse models have led to contradictory results regarding the contributions of PINK1 and Parkin to mitophagy in vivo.
It has previously been shown that PINK1 and Parkin have a key role in adaptive immunity by repressing presentation of mitochondrial antigens, which suggests that autoimmune mechanisms participate in the aetiology of Parkinson’s disease.
Here we show that intestinal infection with Gram-negative bacteria in Pink1−/−mice engages mitochondrial antigen presentation and autoimmune mechanisms that elicit the establishment of cytotoxic mitochondria-specific CD8+T cells in the periphery and in the brain. Notably, these mice show a sharp decrease in the density of dopaminergic axonal varicosities in the striatum and are affected by motor impairment that is reversed after treatment with L-DOPA.
These data support the idea that PINK1 is a repressor of the immune system, and provide a pathophysiological model in which intestinal infection acts as a triggering event in Parkinson’s disease, which highlights the relevance of the gut–brain axis in the disease.
Study Link: nature.com