COVID-19 infection could set the stage for Parkinson’s disease

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Jada Fisher

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A recently published journal article co-authored by Van Andel Institute scientist Dr. Patrik Brudin explores possible connections between COVID-19 and Parkinson’s disease.

Can COVID-19 infection increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease? That’s the question posed in the piece in Trends in NeurosciencesThree known case studies of people developing Parkinson’s-like symptoms in the weeks following their infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are explored.

While rare, these cases are said to provide important insights into potential long-term implications of infections.

“As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic today, we also must consider its implications for the future,” said Brundin, associate director of research at VAI, in a press release from the institute.

“Evidence is mounting that the side effects of COVID-19 infection, such as inflammation and damage to the vascular system, could lay the foundation for development of Parkinson’s disease. COVID-19 is clearly a major and ongoing public health threat, but the consequences of infection may end up being with us for years and decades to come.”

The other co-authors of the article are Dr. Avindra Nath of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. J. David Beckham of University of Colorado.

Parkinson’s disease is a multi-system disorder that begins years or even decades before its hallmark movement-related symptoms appear.  According to VAI, growing evidence suggests the disease stems from a complex mix of factors that vary depending on a person’s age, genetic predisposition, history of infections and exposure to environmental factors such as pollution or pesticides.

Viral infections in particular may play a role in triggering the earliest stages of Parkinson’s by setting off a cascade that results in the death of brain cells that produce dopamine, a vital chemical messenger whose absence leads to movement issues such as freezing and tremor.

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Jada Fisher