Plant virus research could yield Parkinson’s clues
Darla Carter, The Courier-Journal
Could a virus found in tobacco and some common foods have a role to play in the prevention of Parkinson’s disease?
The possibility is being explored by University of Louisville researchers, who have demonstrated that humans develop antibodies to a plant virus found in tobacco products, such as cigarettes, and some common foods, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
In the past, it has been noted that people who smoke cigarettes or use chewing tobacco have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, but the reason for that is uncertain.
Researchers from UofL’s neurology and physiology departments think that antibodies to the tobacco mosaic virus “may interact with a protein in a cell’s energy generation system and inhibit the development of Parkinson’s disease,” according to a university news release.
“We’re doing research on the molecular mechanisms by which these antibodies might influence disease in humans, and when we elucidate that, that may reveal a target, which could be used for drug development,” Dr. Robert Friedland, a UofL neurology professor, noted in an interview.
In the United States, Parkinson’s disease affects as many as 1 million people, including boxing great Muhammad Ali, a Louisville native, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
UofL’s “work could be very important because it could help to explain why people get various diseases, including Parkinson’s disease,” said Friedland, the study’s lead author. “It also could provide a new avenue for prevention, and it could help with treatment, but we’re in early stages and planning further work at this point.”
Friedland said people should not view the research as a reason to smoke. “I don’t want people to think this implies that smoking is good for you,” he said. “Of course, it’s not.”