Ingestion of subthreshold doses of environmental toxins induces ascending Parkinsonism in the rat

L. Anselmi, C. Bove, F. H. Coleman, K. Le, M. P. Subramanian, K. Venkiteswaran, T. Subramanian, R. A. Travagli

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43 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence suggests that environmental neurotoxicants or misfolded α-synuclein generated by such neurotoxicants are transported from the gastrointestinal tract to the central nervous system via the vagus nerve, triggering degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc) and causing Parkinson’s disease (PD). We tested the hypothesis that gastric co-administration of subthreshold doses of lectins and paraquat can recreate the pathology and behavioral manifestations of PD in rats. A solution containing paraquat + lectin was administered daily for 7 days via gastric gavage, followed by testing for Parkinsonian behavior and gastric dysmotility. At the end of the experiment, brainstem and midbrain tissues were analyzed for the presence of misfolded α-synuclein and neuronal loss in the SNpc and in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV). Misfolded α-synuclein was found in DMV and SNpc neurons. A significant decrease in tyrosine hydroxylase positive dopaminergic neurons was noted in the SNpc, conversely there was no apparent loss of cholinergic neurons of the DMV. Nigrovagally-evoked gastric motility was impaired in treated rats prior to the onset of parkinsonism, the motor deficits of which were improved by l-dopa treatment. Vagotomy prevented the development of parkinsonian symptoms and constrained the appearance of misfolded α-synuclein to myenteric neurons. These data demonstrate that co-administration of subthreshold doses of paraquat and lectin induces progressive, l-dopa-responsive parkinsonism that is preceded by gastric dysmotility. This novel preclinical model of environmentally triggered PD provides functional support for Braak’s staging hypothesis of idiopathic PD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30
Journalnpj Parkinson's Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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