Salivary glands may hold key to Parkinson's test

Testing submandibular salivary glands may be a way to diagnose Parkinson's disease, according to new research conducted at the Mayo Clinic.

There is currently no diagnostic test for the disease, but autopsies of Parkinson's patients show that abnormal proteins associated with the disease are consistently found in the submandibular salivary glands, according to a study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meeting in San Diego in March.

The study involved 15 people with an average age of 68 who had Parkinson's disease for an average of 12 years. They responded to Parkinson's medication and did not have known salivary gland disorders. Biopsies were taken of two different salivary glands: the gland under the lower jaw and the minor salivary glands in the lower lip.

The biopsied tissues were reviewed for evidence of the abnormal Parkinson's protein. In four of the initial lower jaw biopsies, not enough tissue was available to complete the tests. The abnormal Parkinson's protein was detected in nine (82%) of the 11 patients with enough tissue to study.

The finding may be especially useful when tissue proof is needed to detect Parkinson's disease, especially when considering invasive procedures such as deep brain stimulation surgery or gene therapy, the researchers noted.

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