Does Parkinson’s start in the nose? International team awarded US$9 million ASAP grant to find out.

Posted on Monday, November 1, 2021

More than 80 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease suffer from a reduced sense of smell, something that often occurs years before the onset of typical movement-related symptoms. Now, thanks to a US$9 million grant from the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative, a Canadian-led international team hopes to determine whether scent-processing nerves that connect the inside of the nose to the brain may play a role in the development of Parkinson's disease.

“While current treatments can help control some symptoms of Parkinson’s, we can’t stop this disease or even slow it down,” said team leader Dr. Michael Schlossmacher, a neurologist and a professor at the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute as well as Director of The Ottawa Hospital’s Neuroscience Program. “This grant will allow us to explore an understudied but important aspect of Parkinson’s, which could lead to new approaches for early treatment and prevention.”

The team, which includes researchers from Germany and the United States in addition to Canada, will investigate possible links between environmental exposures in the nasal cavity, inflammation, odor processing centres in the brain and Parkinson’s-related genes, in both animal models and people.   

“We will test the idea that certain environmental triggers, such as viruses, may be able to start a chain reaction in the odor-sensing cells in the nose, resulting in the formation of clumps of a protein called alpha-synuclein,” said Dr. Schlossmacher, who is also the Bhargava Family Research Chair in Neurodegeneration at The Ottawa Hospital. “If so, we theorize that this process could gradually spread via connections throughout the brain, thereby promoting Parkinson’s, especially in people with multiple risk factors for the disease.”

Co-Investigators on the team include Dr. Brit Mollenhauer and Dr. Christine Stadelmann (from the University Medical Center Goettingen), Dr. Ben Arenkiel (from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital) and Dr. Maxime Rousseaux (from the University of Ottawa).

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