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Lewy bodies found in olfactory areas suggest not only is lost smell a sign of neural damage, but rather a direct link to the mechanism creating the disorder:
The loss of a sense of smell is known to be one of the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and can even appear years before the characteristic tremors and loss of motor function are seen. Some scientists believe that olfactory dysfunction may not just be a sign of broader neural damage, but rather may have a more direct linkage to the generation of the disorder itself. In support of this idea, deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein that form Lewy bodies can be found in olfactory areas, as well as in dying dopamine neurons whose loss triggers PD, and mutations in the gene encoding alpha-synuclein produce PD.
Inflammation triggered in the areas where the olfactory neurons project (recapitulated by lipopolysaccharide) culminate in alpha-synuclein that can cross the blood-brain barrier:
Results of the study, published in the journal Brain Pathology, showed that application of an irritating component of a bacterium’s cell wall induces inflammation in the areas exactly where the olfactory neurons project, called the olfactory bulb. Moreover, these areas show the hallmark signs of PD, depositions of alpha-synuclein, the core components of Lewy bodies. PD is characterized by progressive motor and non-motor symptoms linked to alpha-synuclein pathology and the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the nigrostriatal system. Toxic aggregates of alpha-synuclein can arise from either overexpression of the protein, changes in protein modifications, and from hereditary mutations.
“Data from our study show that the bacterial trigger does not move across the blood-brain barrier,” said Quan. “Rather, a sequential inflammatory activation of the olfactory mucosa triggers a subsequent expression of inflammatory molecules within the brain, propagating the inflammation.”