Researchers at the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Centre have found that ‘natural killer’ white blood cells could guard against the cascade of cellular changes that lead to Parkinson’s and help stop its progression.
‘Natural killer’ cells are white blood cells that can kill tumours without being “told” by the body to do so.
These cells provide the first line of defence against invasion or a virus and are equipped with activating receptors that can sense cellular stress and identify cells that have been altered due to infection.
A new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences highlights that ‘natural killer’ cells act not only as efficient scavengers that attack an intruder but may be critical for regulating and restraining inflammation of brain tissue and protein clumping — hallmarks of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.
The report also found that ‘natural killer’ cell depletion in a mouse model significantly exaggerated the disease condition. This led to the discovery that, without these cells, the nervous system was left vulnerable to attack.
It seems that ‘natural killer’ cells exert protection by their ability to reduce inflammation in the brain and clear proteins that misfold and create toxic clumps. In their absence, proteins are left unchecked and there is a substantial decrease in viral resistant cells. This confirms that ‘natural killer’ cells are a major source of signalling proteins that boost the immune system response.
Parkinson’s is no longer considered a brain-specific disease, and researchers increasingly recognise a functional connection between the immune system and central nervous system.
In conditions of chronic inflammation such as Parkinson’s, the blood-brain barrier becomes disrupted – allowing immune cells to channel into the brain.