From the WashU School of Medicine News…
People who take drugs that suppress the immune system are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, according to a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The findings, published May 31 in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, suggest that a person’s own immune system helps nudge him or her down the path toward Parkinson’s. Restraining the immune system with drugs potentially could prevent the neurological disorder, which is characterized by tremors, slow movements, stiffness and difficulty walking.
“The idea that a person’s immune system could be contributing to neurologic damage has been suggested for quite some time,” said Brad Racette, MD, the Robert Allan Finke Professor of Neurology and the study’s senior author. “We’ve found that taking certain classes of immunosuppressant drugs reduces the risk of developing Parkinson’s. One group of drugs in particular looks really promising and warrants further investigation to determine whether it can slow disease progression.”
Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease, affects about a million people in the United States. Its causes are not well-understood.
Last year, Racette and colleagues analyzed millions of medical records and developed an algorithm to predict which people would be diagnosed with the disease. As they mined the data, they discovered that people with several types of autoimmune diseases, including ulcerative colitis, were less likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s than the general population. The autoimmune diseases were a mixed bag, linked to myriad glitches in the immune system and affecting a variety of organ systems. It was hard to see how such a hodgepodge of immune system malfunctions all could end up having the same beneficial effect.
The researchers noted, however, that many autoimmune diseases do have one thing in common: They are treated with drugs that dampen immune activity. Having an autoimmune disease may not be a good thing, but being treated for one might be, they decided.
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