Objective: It has been hypothesized that Lewy pathology initiates in the enteric nervous system years prior to debut of clinical motor symptoms in Parkinson disease patients. This study investigates whether Lewy pathology is present in various gastrointestinal tract tissues from Parkinson disease patients in the prodromal phase.
Methods: We used the Danish National Pathology Registry to identify archived paraffin-embedded tissue blocks from 57 Parkinson disease patients (98 blocks) and 90 control subjects (98 blocks). We employed 2 different immunohistochemistry techniques visualizing aggregated α-synuclein and phosphorylated α-synuclein.
Results: Thirty-nine Parkinson disease patients contributed tissues obtained in the prodromal disease phase, whereas 18 Parkinson disease patients contributed tissues obtained solely after Parkinson diagnosis. Prodromal tissues were obtained on average 7.0 years prior to diagnosis (range = 20 years to 4 months), and postdiagnosis tissue on average 2.8 years after diagnosis (range = 2 days to 18 years). Phosphorylated α-synuclein positivity was seen in 22 of 39 (56%) prodromal Parkinson disease subjects and 30 of 67 (45%) prodromal tissue blocks. These fractions were significantly higher compared to control subjects (p = 0.0001 and p = 0.0032, respectively). In contrast, no significant difference was seen in the positivity rate between prodromal Parkinson disease patients and controls when using the aggregated α-synuclein immunohistochemistry technique.
Interpretation: We detected Lewy pathology in the gastrointestinal tract of patients up to 20 years prior to their Parkinson disease diagnosis. These findings are in accordance with a hypothesized prodromal disease phase spanning 10 to 20 years. Ann Neurol 2016;79:940-949.
© 2016 American Neurological Association.