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Gut Feeling: Two Breakthroughs for Understanding Parkinson’s and Its Progression Across the Body

Research stories February 01, 2021
Researchers in the Trudeau Lab.

Skim through Brain Canada’s annual reports and you will spot the familiar face of Dr. Louis-Éric Trudeau. Dr. Trudeau led one of the five teams selected through the Brain Repair Program, launched in 2003, to pursue novel, paradigm-changing ideas. His team had two breakthroughs. They determined the role of genes associated with developing Parkinson’s, and they discovered that the brain cells that cause Parkinson’s die because they need too much energy and in some way “overheat” due to oxidative stress.

"The Brain Repair Program linked me with people who were studying diseases from a different angle," said Dr. Trudeau. "It was instrumental in my professional development, and I think that for a new scientist that is starting out in Canada, having access to team grants will change the way their career develops. The way to make progress and to go faster is to work in teams. It is a unique program that Brain Canada has, there is no equivalent program for neuroscience teams in Canada right now."

It is in the same Trudeau Lab, tucked in at the Université de Montréal, that Dr. Trudeau and his team
made what Québec Science termed one of the ten scientific discoveries of 2019. A discovery made in part through the support of Brain Canada and its partners.

"The brain is linked with the body in many ways. It makes a lot of sense to study interactions between the gut, the brain and the peripheral nervous system. Our angle is to look at how the immune system can trigger an autoimmune disease mechanism in the gut," explained Dr. Trudeau.

The results of the research, published in Nature, show that, in a mouse model, a gut infection can lead
to a pathology resembling Parkinson’s. A gut infection in an animal that is predisposed to Parkinson’s is sometimes enough to transform neurons into targets for the immune system, leading to symptoms of the disease. The results help to better understand Parkinson’s and its progression across the body – which may in turn help its detection and eventually its treatment.