Protein in Skin Linked to Parkinson’s Disease May Help Prevent Misdiagnoses

Image of: brain made out of words related to Parkinson's Disease.Medical researchers and professionals have yet to establish a biomarker for catching Parkinson’s disease before motor system symptoms begin.   Researchers at the Mayo Clinic proposed a saliva test for Parkinson’s, but it doesn’t seem as promising as the new finding that links a protein in the skin created from the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to Parkinson’s.

The protein, alpha-synuclein, “occurs early in the course of Parkinson’s disease and precedes the onset of clinical symptoms,” said Roy Freeman, director of the Autonomic and Peripheral Nerve Laboratory at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

Freeman also said that Parkinson’s is often misdiagnosed.  However, if a proven biomarker was established, the percentage of misdiagnosed patients would drop profoundly.

Unlike many other theories and potential solutions to improper diagnoses, alpha-synuclein’s link to people with Parkinson’s is strong.  For instance, the clumps in the brains of Parkinson’s patients are largely made up of alpha-synuclein.  In addition to this, Parkinson’s patients have higher levels of the protein in their skin cells compared to people without the disease.

But there’s still a long way to go before testing for alpha-synuclein becomes a proven process for diagnosing Parkinson’s.  Before this happens, medical researchers need to determine how the protein is created and if it’s present in people with other types of neurodegenerative diseases.  If it’s linked to other neurodegenerative diseases, using the protein as a biomarker wouldn’t be reliable.  For it to be reliable, researchers would have to determine the different amounts of alpha-synuclein in people with Parkinson’s and people with other neurodegenerative diseases.

A research study with Parkinson’s patients and non-Parkinson’s patients was recently completed; however, a study between Parkinson’s patients and patients with other neurodegenerative diseases has not been completed yet.

The study between those with and without Parkinson’s included 20 Parkinson’s patients and 14 controls.  To test for alpha-synuclein levels, medical researchers used new ANS testing equipment on people with and without the disease.

According to an article in Medical News Today, “the researchers found their hunch was right: the Parkinson’s patients had higher levels of alpha-synuclein in the skin nerves supplying the sweat glands and the pilomotor muscles (the ones that produce goose bumps).”

Judging from this test and others completed, it’s likely that testing for alpha-synuclein will become a valid method for helping health professionals make future diagnoses.

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