Scientists at Van Andel Institute discover link between Parkinson’s disease and appendix

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A study authored by scientists at the Van Andel Institute and others says that having your appendix removed early in life reduces your risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 19 to 25 percent.

The study was published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.

The study also confirmed some thoughts about Parkinson's that proteins in the gut and immune system trigger the disease and its progression.  Those "abnormally folded alpha-synuclein proteins" are often found in the appendix.

“Our results point to the appendix as a site of origin for Parkinson’s and provide a path forward for devising new treatment strategies that leverage the gastrointestinal tract’s role in the development of the disease,” said Viviane Labrie, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) and senior author of the study in a press release. “Despite having a reputation as largely unnecessary, the appendix actually plays a major part in our immune systems, in regulating the makeup of our gut bacteria and now, as shown by our work, in Parkinson’s disease.”

But, having an appendectomy is not a good kind of therapy for treating Parkinson's.

Removal of the appendix after the onset of Parkinson's had no effect on the progression of the disease. People who had their appendix removed were 19 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's, but in rural areas, the disease was lessened by 25 percent. Researchers say that Parkinson's is more prevalent in rural areas due to increased exposure to pesticides.

Appendectomies had no apparent benefit for people who have Parkinson's in their family tree.

The team at Van Andel collaborated with researchers at Lund University, Sweden, to comb through records for 1,698,000 people followed up to 52 years, a total of nearly 92 million person-years. The second dataset was from the Parkinson’s Progression Marker Initiative (PPMI), which includes details about patient diagnosis, age of onset, demographics and genetic information.

In all, this study involved scientists from Van Andel Research Institute, Northwestern University, Lund University and Michigan State University.

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