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Archive - Oct 31, 2018

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STUNNER: Appendix Identified As Potential Starting Point for Parkinson's Disease

Removing the appendix early in life reduces the risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 19 to 25 percent, according to the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind, published in the October 31, 2018 issue of Science Translational Medicine. The open-access article is titled “The Vermiform Appendix Impacts the Risk of Developing Parkinson’s Disease.” The findings also solidify the role of the gut and immune system in the genesis of the disease, and reveal that the appendix acts as a major reservoir for abnormally folded alpha-synuclein proteins, which are closely linked to Parkinson's onset and progression. "Our results point to the appendix as a site of origin for Parkinson's and provide a path forward for devising new treatment strategies that leverage the gastrointestinal tract's role in the development of the disease," said Viviane Labrie, PhD, an Assistant Professor at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) and senior author of the study. "Despite having a reputation as largely unnecessary, the appendix actually plays a major part in our immune systems, in regulating the makeup of our gut bacteria and now, as shown by our work, in Parkinson's disease." The reduced risk for Parkinson's was only apparent when the appendix and the alpha-synuclein contained within it were removed early in life, years before the onset of Parkinson's, suggesting that the appendix may be involved in disease initiation. Removal of the appendix after the disease process starts, however, had no effect on disease progression. In a general population, people who had an appendectomy were 19 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's. This effect was magnified in people who live in rural areas, with appendectomies resulting in a 25 percent reduction in disease risk.

Barn Owls Help Hopkins Scientists Unlock Secret of How Brain Pays Attention; Cover Article Provides “Beautiful Answer” to How Brain Determines Where to Focus

By studying barn owls, scientists at Johns Hopkins University believe they've taken an important step toward solving the long-standing mystery of how the brain chooses what most deserves attention. The finding, which is the subject of the cover article of the October 30, 2018 issue of the journal Cell Reports, likely applies to all animals, including humans, and offers new insight into what goes wrong in the brain with diseases like attention-deficit disorder (ADD). The open-acces article is titled “Combinatorial Neural Inhibition for Stimulation Across Space.” "There are a million things out there in the world bombarding our eyes, our ears, our skin, and other sensory organs. Of all of those things, what particular piece of information do we most need to pay attention to at any instant to drive our behavior?" said co-author Shreesh Mysore, PhD, a Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist. "Our work provides a really beautiful answer to how the brain solves a key component of that problem." Despite studying the forebrain of animals for decades, scientists haven't found a good answer to the question of how the brain decides what to pay attention to. The researchers decided instead to look at the midbrain, an evolutionarily older part of the brain found in everything from fish and mammals to birds and humans. "All animals have a need to pay attention to the thing that might impact our survival, but we don't all have a highly developed forebrain," said Dr. Mysore, who is also an Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences.