Protein Aggregation: Are gut microbes the cause of protein aggregation in neurodegenerative diseases?

Black and pink colored brain.With nearly 50 million Americans affected each year by neurodegenerative diseases, it’s a rising concern for doctors and researchers to find appropriate treatment for patients.  

The ongoing research on gut health has linked it to the majority of diseases and neurodegenerative diseases are no different. There are several ways that the gut affects the development and severity of neurodegeneration. In this article, we will cover just how the gut can impact disease progression. 

What is Neurodegenerative Disease?

Neurodegenerative disease is a progressive loss of neurons (nerve cells) that eventually leads to cognitive and mobility impairment. 

Basically, your nerve cells die off and so your brain struggles to send out the important signals to the rest of your body. This reduces your ability to think clearly, remember important things, and communicate properly. On top of that, they affect motor skills like walking and moving your extremities to accomplish daily tasks. Neurodegenerative diseases are difficult for the patient and their family members because they’re such aggressive conditions.

Some of the more common neurodegenerative diseases are:

While these diseases are often associated with the elderly, they can onset at any time. Each condition has hallmark symptoms as the disease has already progressed. But there are some common symptoms that happen early on before the disease is diagnosed that are indicators that it may happen. Unfortunately, these symptoms are common everyday symptoms that really don’t cause concern to doctors — like constipation.

On a molecular level, protein aggregation is what plays a major part in the development and progression of these debilitating diseases. 

What is Protein Aggregation?

Protein aggregation is a process where proteins become misfolded causing miscommunication in the body. Then future proteins follow the same coding as the misfolded proteins which leads to neurodegeneration. 

Why the protein aggregation begins to happen isn’t well understood. Though Dr. Daniel Czyz and his team at Florida University conducted a study that linked protein aggregation to gut microbes. 

In their study, they took Caenorhabditis elegans — a transparent nematode — to help understand the different microbes and their effects on host tissues. This specific creature is used in studies since it is see-through which helps researchers to see the processes happening in real-time. 

Researchers are able to use a marking system where the protein aggregations glow green under the microscope. They’re able to follow these to see which bacteria are causing the glow and what tissues it is affecting. 

Several bacteria in this study lead to protein aggregation. They were also able to find out that butyrate-causing bacteria help to reduce protein aggregation slowing the spread of the disease. 

Some of the bacteria affected reproductive organs. This actually affected offspring of the C. elegans used in the study putting them at higher risk for protein aggregation.

Researchers in this study confidently concluded that dysbiosis and gastrointestinal infections are an instigator of neurodegenerative diseases and that further research should focus on the gut to help find cures and treatments. 

This isn’t the only way that the gut microbiome affects/contributes to neurodegenerative diseases.

How the microbiome affects neurodegenerative diseases

You’ve probably heard of the bacteria Escherichia coli. It’s a strain commonly associated with gastrointestinal infection often from unclean foods and water. 

Bacteria all produce metabolites and the metabolites are often what make us categorize them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The metabolites from E. coli can produce extracellular amyloid protein curli. The curli contributed to the aggregation of the alpha-synuclein (AS) protein. 

Increased neuronal AS protein deposition was found in the gut and brain along with increased inflammatory biomarkers. 

It is believed that the curli affects the vagus nerve — the 12th (and longest) cranial nerve that runs from the base of the skull into the gut. The vagus nerve is the subject of many studies when it comes to abdominal pain and gastrointestinal problems — especially those that also present with mental symptoms. 

A study was done on patients who underwent a vagotomy (the removal of the vagus nerve). Patients who underwent a full truncal vagotomy were at a lower risk of PD than those who only underwent a partial vagotomy. This study suggests that the vagus nerve has a large hand in the development of PD

Which makes it very plausible that the vagus nerve is the method of communication of the curli and other protein aggregates.

Bacteria don’t only cause problems when it comes to neurodegeneration. Some bacteria and their metabolites actually help to slow down the progression of these diseases. 

People with ALS often are low in nicotinamide (commonly called vitamin B3). While it’s still in the early study phases, researchers are testing if supplementation of this vitamin helps ALS patients. One study did find that supplementation groups progressed much slower than the placebo group. 

Also, as we mentioned above, butyrate-producing bacteria help prevent protein misfolding and aggregation. 

So how can we help people who are burdened with these diseases?

Improving the gut to help prevent and improve neurodegenerative diseases

List of neuro stimulating activities Improving your gut health is something we could all use to focus on. You can do that by:

  • Eating healthy
  • Sticking to healthy sleep routines
  • Exercising moderately 3-5 times a week
  • Reducing stress
  • Taking Atrantil to nourish your microbiome, feed the good bacteria, and release postbiotic metabolites to help improve gut and overall health

For those who have neurodegenerative diseases, it might not be quite as easy. Adhering to these guidelines is a good start, but diet is going to be a major factor in getting the right nutrients to help reduce protein aggregation

A diet called the MIND diet has come out to help those with Alzheimer’s disease and might be a good start for those with other neurodegenerative diseases. The MIND diet focuses on getting important things like:

  • Fiber
  • Polyphenols
  • Prebiotics
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Vitamins and minerals (especially with ALS ask your doctor about vitamin B3)

Foods with these properties provide you with the foods your good gut bacteria like to eat. When they eat foods with a high nutritional value they can produce more healthy bacteria strains and metabolites that can help to reduce protein aggregation. 

Doctors and researchers still don’t fully understand these diseases but are working towards understanding to better help their patients. If you or a loved one suffer from a neurodegenerative disease don’t feel bad that you don’t know how to stop it because even the medical community is still baffled by them. Just work on making as many healthy decisions as you can and know you’re doing your best and aren’t alone. 

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