Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that can cause tremors and loss of movement in the elderly. It is characterized by a loss of brain cells that produce the chemical signal dopamine, which facilitates body movement. The primary treatment of Parkinson’s disease is Levodopa, an artificial chemical that can be converted into dopamine in the brain. If the conversion happens elsewhere in the body, the resulting dopamine cannot cross into the brain and is useless as a treatment. Gut bacteria have been implicated in the premature conversion of the medicine Levodopa, but it was not known which bacteria species are responsible and how they do it.

Scientists at Harvard used bioinformatic tools to comb through the gut bacterial genome: They looked for a protein sequence that is similar enough to another protein known to be able to convert Levodopa into dopamine.  They discovered this target protein in Enterococcus faecalis, a common gut bacteria. After studying how the protein works, the scientists also identified a chemical, AFMT, that can stop this protein from working. When given to mice, AFMT increases the availability of Levodopa in the blood, enabling more of the drug to reach its target, the brain. 

This study revealed how the gut bacteria interfere with our treatment of Parkinson’s disease, and suggests that our microbiomes could be hindering the treatment efforts of other diseases, as well. More work will be needed to develop AFMT into an FDA-approved drug that improves the potency of Levodopa in those patients who possess E. faecalis in their gut.

Managing Correspondent: Veerasak (Jeep) Srisuknimit

Original Paper: Science

Press article: Science Daily

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