Cellular Changes in Blood May Help with Early Parkinson’s Disease Detection

According to Parkinson’s News, researchers have discovered that specific immune cells in the blood of patients with Parkinson’s disease appear up to 10 years before motor skills are impacted. This could potentially be used as a method of early detection. In addition, determining which patients are at risk will allow for early immunotherapies to minimize neuronal damage. Read the full findings in Nature Communications

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive central nervous system disorder. It affects movement, speech, balance, and motor skills. Patients with Parkinson’s disease will usually go through five stages:

  • Stage One: patients will experience mild symptoms, such as light tremors or shaking on one side of the body.
  • Stage Two: patients will start to notice their symptoms more. Tremors, shaking, or muscle stiffness will occur on both sides of the body.
  • Stage Three: at this point, patients are in the middle of their disease progression. Many patients will experience a loss of balance and slower movement.
  • Stage Four: patients can no longer live independently.
  • Stage Five: this is the final and most severe stage of Parkinson’s disease. Patients cannot stand or walk. Some may experience hallucinations.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include slowed movement, muscle stiffness and rigidity, issues with balance and speech, tremors, and hallucinations. Parkinson’s generally affects older individuals. It happens when neurons in the brain degenerate or die, causing patients to lose valuable dopamine. Learn more about Parkinson’s disease.

Cellular Blood Changes

The recent discovery from researchers states that those with Parkinson’s have cellular changes in their body way before they receive a diagnosis. After these changes occur, people may experience insomnia, constipation, and changes in personality.

So why is this important? Well, even though there are no outward changes in motor function at this time, there is still something else happening: neuronal death. In fact, most of the dopaminergic neurons (the ones that produce dopamine) are already gone. Any treatments following this point will not be as effective. This highlights the importance of early detection.

The Study

Data shows that certain immune cells, called T-cells, in patients with Parkinson’s disease respond negatively to the alpha-synuclein protein. In patients with Parkinson’s disease, the alpha-synuclein protein is misshapen or misfolded. According to the Cure Parkinson’s Trust, deformed alpha-synuclein protein clumps into masses called “Lewy bodies.” These are thought to cause neuronal degeneration.

Because T-cells attack alpha-synuclein protein, the immune cells might also accidentally attack nerve cells where the Lewy bodies are concentrated. This could contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers wanted to see how T-cells were altered during the progression of this condition.

Parkinson’s disease Research

To start, researchers looked at blood samples from a patient with Parkinson’s disease. The samples, taken twice per year, were first taken 11 years before his diagnosis, and continued for nine years following it. Researchers discovered that T-cells reacting to alpha-synuclein protein were seen in the blood 10 years before the patient’s diagnosis. The reaction was highest right before the patient became symptomatic, and lessened over the years.

Next, researchers sought to understand how this compared to individuals without neurodegeneration. In the secondary study, which compared patients with Parkinson’s disease to a control group, they found the same result. Their T-cells were must more reactive than the control group. Of the 96 patients, 40% experienced strong reactivity. This correlated with a more recent diagnosis.

In addition, researchers also compared the responses from the Parkinson’s trial to a group of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The T-cell reactivity was not present for Alzheimer’s disease.


The reactive T-cells were CD4-positive T-cells. These do not attack an invader. Rather, CD4-positive T-cells trigger an immune response, causing other immune cells to swarm and attack. Researchers note that, moving forward, doctors should examine T-cells and potential immune responses. This could assist with the early detection of Parkinson’s. Thus, preventative treatments like anti-TNF therapies could be given earlier.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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