Researchers have struggled for years to understand how mutations in one gene, called LRRK2, can increase the risk of three very different diseases: Parkinson’s (a brain disease), Crohn’s (a gut disease) and leprosy (a peripheral nervous system disease). Now, a Canadian team has found that inflammation is the likely culprit. Their results are published in Science Translational Medicine.
Inflammation, which is associated with swelling, redness, heat and pain, is the body’s first defense against viruses, bacteria and injuries. But when inflammation is too strong or lasts too long, it can cause collateral damage to the body.
“Everyone thought that LRRK2’s primary role was in the brain, because of its association with Parkinson’s disease. But our research shows for the first time that its primary role is probably in the immune system,” said senior author Dr. Michael Schlossmacher, Bhargava Family Research Chair in Neurodegeneration, Director of Neuroscience and a neurologist at The Ottawa Hospital, and professor at the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute.
“Our research suggests that certain mutations in LRRK2 enhance inflammation and help the body to defend itself better against viruses and bacteria, but this enhanced inflammation could also increase the risk of Parkinson’s and other brain diseases,” added Dr. Schlossmacher.
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