Background: A hallmark feature of Parkinson's disease (PD) is the build-up of α-synuclein protein aggregates throughout the brain; however α-synuclein is also expressed in enteric neurons. Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and pathology are frequently reported in PD, including constipation, increased intestinal permeability, glial pathology, and alterations to gut microbiota composition. α-synuclein can propagate through neuronal systems but the site of origin of α-synuclein pathology, whether it be the gut or the brain, is still unknown. Physical exercise is associated with alleviating symptoms of PD and with altering the composition of the gut microbiota.
Methods: This study investigated the effects of bilateral nigral injection of adeno-associated virus (AAV)-α-synuclein on enteric neurons, glia and neurochemistry, the gut microbiome, and bile acid metabolism in rats, some of whom were exposed to voluntary exercise.
Key results: Nigral overexpression of α-synuclein resulted in significant neuronal loss in the ileal submucosal plexus with no change in enteric glia. In contrast, the myenteric plexus showed a significant increase in glial expression, while neuronal numbers were maintained. Concomitant alterations were observed in the gut microbiome and related bile acid metabolism. Voluntary running protected against neuronal loss, increased enteric glial expression, and modified gut microbiome composition in the brain-injected AAV-α-synuclein PD model.
Conclusions and inferences: These results show that developing nigral α-synuclein pathology in this PD model exerts significant alterations on the enteric nervous system (ENS) and gut microbiome that are receptive to modification by exercise. This highlights brain to gut communication as an important mechanism in PD pathology.
Keywords: Parkinson's disease; enteric nervous system; exercise; gut-brain axis; microbiome.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
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