My PD Story

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Tim Sampson, PhD

Learning How Pesticides Impact Parkinson’s

Tim Sampson, PhD, of Emory University, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence, received a Parkinson’s Foundation Stanley Fahn Junior Faculty Award to understand how Parkinson’s-linked pesticides affect the gut microbiome, the complex community of bacteria and other microbes in the intestinal tract.

Studies suggest that people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) harbor distinct gut microbiomes. By identifying gut microbiome changes, the effects of those specific changes on the body, and interactions between environmental exposure and genetic factors, Dr. Sampson hopes to link how insecticides trigger these defects of the intestinal tract and trigger Parkinson’s symptoms.

“Going back 200 years to James Parkinson’s first description of the disease, he noted that individuals with the shaking palsy also had dysfunction in their gut,” said Dr. Sampson. “As the field grew to understand the complexity of gut to brain communication and the role of the indigenous microbiome in this communication, it was clear that this path might be involved in neurological diseases, such as PD.”

Exposure to pesticides is a leading environmental risk for many neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms in the gut, including constipation and inflammatory bowel disease, often occur before developing Parkinson’s motor symptoms.

The gut microbiome is one of the first parts of the body to interact with oral exposures, for instance, through eating foods with residual pesticides. However, little is known about how the gut and its microbiome respond to insecticides, and how these changes may specifically impact Parkinson’s.”

“We know that PD likely arises from a confluence of genetic and environmental factors,” said Dr. Sampson. “Our study hopes to better understand the etiology of PD by exploring the contributions of the gut microbiome to chemical exposures that trigger PD-like pathology. We hope that this will provide insight at the earliest stages of the disease to better prevent PD and develop new therapeutic targets.”

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