The appendix is an organ that little by little we are beginning to know. In 2007 it was known that it was more than a vestigial organ; And now, research published in Science Translational Medicine suggests that Parkinson’s disease can start in this small organ.
According to the research, led by Viviane Labrie of the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan (USA), people are less likely to acquire degenerative disease if their appendix has been removed decades earlier. In addition, a toxic compound found in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease has now been detected in the appendix.
Scientists believe that Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disease that involves tremors and stiffness, is due to the death of brain cells caused by the buildup of a protein called synuclein that normally plays a role in nerve signaling.
In people with Parkinson’s, synuclein is found in groups that kill nerve cells in parts of the brain that control movement. When the synuclein begins to gather in one place, the accumulation spreads along the nerves in a chain reaction. Growing evidence suggests that this process may begin in the nerves of the intestine. For example, if agglomerated synuclein is injected into the intestines of mice, the toxic aggregates spread to their brains.
Some previous studies have pointed to the appendix as a key piece in the onset of Parkinson’s disease. But the investigations to see if having appendix protects against the disease have given contradictory results. The operation seems to be related to a slightly higher risk in the short term, but a lower risk in the long term.
The new study
So Labrie and his team addressed the question with the largest and longest study to date, analyzing the health care records of 1.6 million Swedes for 52 years. Those who removed the appendix of young people had almost 20% less chance of developing Parkinson’s later in life.
The researchers also examined 48 appendices taken from people with and without Parkinson’s and found that almost all had synuclein clustered in the nerve fibers of the organ. This “could act as a seed for disease in the brain,” says Labrie. However, it is still unknown why this only happens in some people.
In the middle of this year, it was detected that a virus called Lactococus was related to the degenerative disease. And a few months earlier, New Zealand scientists proposed to implant pig cells in the brain, and Swedish researchers have proven to treat the disease by injecting a virus.