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Parkinson’s researchers focus on chemical from soil bacteria

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Source: ScienceDaily

A chemical produced by common soil bacteria may kill neurons that produce dopamine, according to a study publishing Oct. 6. Dopamine neuron demise leads to the hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder affecting some 1 million Americans.

The National Institutes of Health-sponsored research, publishing in the online open-access journal PLoS One, is preliminary, according to University of Alabama scientists, but could shed light on those Parkinson’s cases with no known genetic component – which are the vast majority. Environmental triggers have been linked to Parkinson’s in previous studies.

“The data, so far, are seriously important, at best, and, at least, intriguing,” said Dr. Guy Caldwell, associate professor of biological sciences at The University of Alabama, the NIH grant recipient and co-author of the research. “By no means do we feel this is anything of a conclusive nature, yet.”

The research focuses on a chemical produced by a type of streptomyces, a bacterium frequently found in dirt and a top producer of antibiotics. This chemical, which the UA researchers say they believe is unknown to science, is likely produced by the bacteria as a secondary metabolite, said Dr. Julie Olson, an associate professor of biological sciences at UA and another co-author of the study.

Secondary metabolites are chemical compounds produced by organisms, including bacteria, often as a protective measure.

In laboratory experiments, the neurons which produce dopamine in worm animal models died when exposed to select strains of a bacterial culture containing the chemical.

“In general, the worms were fine, but the dopamine neurons started dying rapidly,” Caldwell said.

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