Examining the interplay of the immune system with brain cells in Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease occurs when nerve cells that produce the chemical dopamine are lost from the brain. This causes a person to have many symptoms including a tremor of their hands and slowness of movement. There have been a lot of studies trying to determine why these dopamine nerve cells die.

There is growing evidence that the immune system may be playing its part as might other cell types within the brain. The immune system helps us defend ourselves against disease caused by tiny invaders such as virus and bacteria. This system is made up of specialised tissues and organs that work together to destroy such invaders. It has been established that there is an increase in the levels of one part of the immune system, i.e. T lymphocytes in the blood of Parkinson's patients; specifically Th17 cells and that they can cause the death of dopamine nerve cells when they are exposed to each other in a culture dish.

We would like to find out if these Th17 cells can also affect the astrocyte population in the brain as there is growing evidence that stressed astrocytes can cause nerve cell death. Astrocytes are star shaped cells that transport nutrients to nerve cells. We will culture Th17 cells with astrocytes, take the media off these astrocytes and place it on nerve cells to see if they die. We will also determine what this media coming from astrocytes post exposure is made up of and determine if we can block the signal that's causing the nerve cells to die. It is important to carry out this work now so as we can determine how important the immune system is in this disease. One major advantage is that we can carry this out in a human stem cell model combined with patient's blood.

Award Date
30 June 2019
Award Value
Principal Investigator
Professor Maeve Caldwell
Host Institution
Trinity College Dublin
Investigator Led Projects