Nose swabs could help early Parkinson's diagnosis

Knowledge
25 May 2021

New research suggests that nasal swabs could indicate Parkinson's in people who have yet to show more obvious signs of the condition.

The research carried out at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria examined the presence of misfolded proteins called synucleins in the nose. It found that 44% of 63 people who experienced REM sleep behaviour disorder*, which the study took as a potential early sign of Parkinson's, had wrongly folded synucleins in the nose. This was comparable with other groups, where 49% of 41 people with confirmed Parkinson's, and 10% of a group of 59 people of a similar age but without any confirmed neurological conditions, also had wrongly folded synucleins.

The build up of wrongly-folded synucleins is thought to cause the death of brain cells responsible for making dopamine, which in turn causes Parkinson's. There is evidence that these build in the nose for some and in the gut for others, and then impact the brain, whilst for others they are more widespread in pockets across the nervous system.

People with both REM sleep behaviour disorder and the presence of wrongly-folded synucleins also experienced a 'severe loss of smell' - another sign associated with Parkinson's. Chief researcher Werner Poewe suggested this showed correlation between faulty synucleins and a reduced sense of smell.

Poewe suggests that this research provides a basis for a far less invasive means of checking for faulty synucleins - a simple nasal swab (the current method requires a sample of cerebrospinal fluid).

A potentially low-cost, non-invasive biomarker for Parkinson's could assist in early detection and diagnosis of Parkinson's, essential in preserving as much brain function as possible, for as long as possible.

For more information find the full article in New Scientist.


*REM sleep behaviour disorder, considered an early sign of Parkinson's, is that of people acting out their dreams due to a loss of the mechanism which keeps people still during REM sleep. This is also symptomatic of dementia with Lewy bodies.

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