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Parkinson’s Disease

The idea that a malfunctioning immune system contributes to Parkinson’s dates back almost 100 years but never gained any traction. Finally, Dr. Alessandro Sette and his collaborators at Columbia University found the first direct evidence that autoimmunity—in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues—plays a role in Parkinson’s disease.

The new study found that T cells can be tricked into thinking dopamine neurons (those affected by Parkinson’s disease) are foreign by the buildup of damaged alpha-synuclein proteins, a key feature of the disease. In particular, the immune response was associated with a common form of a gene found in the immune system, which may explain why many people with Parkinson’s disease carry this gene variant.