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The Biological Basis of Heterogeneity in Parkinson's Disease - Insights from an Innate Immune Perspective.



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Wijeyekoon, Ruwani Shamila 


The biological basis of the clinical heterogeneity in Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is unclear. It is likely to involve complex interactions between genetic and environmental factors and between a range of pathological processes, including protein homeostasis and immune system function.
Microglial activation in the brain and peripheral innate immune changes are known to occur in PD. Recently genetic, animal and cellular studies have linked several innate immune related genes and proteins (e.g. HLADR, TREM2, TLR2, TLR4, caspase-1) to PD and provided evidence that they may have a role in PD pathogenesis. Alpha-synuclein is central to PD, with evidence from neuropathology, genetics and animal/cell models indicating that it plays a significant pathogenic role. There is developing evidence directly linking innate immune activity and alpha-synuclein pathology. For example, inflammation, particularly in response to microbial infection, is associated with increased alpha-synuclein accumulation in the periphery and activation of the innate immune inflammasome related caspase-1 leads to increased cleavage and aggregation of alpha-synuclein.
Overall Hypothesis- “Parkinson’s disease (PD) and its clinical heterogeneity are associated with systemic changes in innate immune and associated microbial factors and in alpha-synuclein”. This was investigated from the perspective of an epidemiological study, a study of peripheral blood monocyte, innate immune/microbial markers and a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) study in PD patients. *The epidemiological study, involved the longitudinal PICNICS cohort of 290 Idiopathic PD patients, and showed that the use of medication known to influence alpha-synuclein and immune function is associated with motor heterogeneity in PD. *The peripheral immune study involved 41 early PD patients and 41 age, gender and MAPT genotype matched paired controls, with the PD patients categorised into 2 groups based on the presence of previously identified clinical and genetic risk factors for the development of an early dementia (impaired semantic fluency, pentagon copying and MAPT H1/H1 haplotype). This study demonstrated that the phenotypic profile of peripheral monocytes and the level of serum alpha-synuclein and relevant innate immune and microbial markers do differ in early PD compared to controls and that there are differential changes in those patients at higher versus lower risk for early dementia. The systemic alpha-synuclein related changes appear to be present overall in PD patients compared to controls, while the more microbial/innate immune related changes appear to be more prominent in the dementia higher risk group. *The CSF study involved samples from 35 PD patients and has demonstrated evidence of relationships between neurodegeneration-linked CSF tau species and inflammatory cytokines, and between CSF alpha-synuclein and cognitive function, suggesting that these factors may be involved in PD heterogeneity within the central nervous system as well. Overall, these studies provide evidence that variations in alpha synuclein/ tau homeostasis and innate immune and microbial factors are related to PD and its clinical heterogeneity.





Barker, Roger A
Williams-Gray, Caroline H


Parkinson's disease, heterogeneity, innate immune, monocyte, alpha-synuclein, epidemiology, peripheral, cerebrospinal fluid, cytokine, cognitive, dementia


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge