Filip Bäckström is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Medicine, Lund University. Here he tells us about his research.
Genetic variation is the reason why we are different, some have blue eyes and others brown, some are tall whereas others are short. Genetic variation also affects our immune system. The involvement of the immune system in Parkinson’s disease has been known for some time now. However, even after decades of research, there is still a debate regarding its protective or detrimental effects on disease progression. Our aim is to answer the question: how does the genetic variation in our immune system affect the risk and progression of Parkinson’s disease?
To study the effects of the immune system on the brain, we use rats that are identical in their genetic background except for a gene involved in immune responses. Since rats do not develop Parkinson’s disease, we have to mimic the disease (described below). We have found that genetic differences in the immune system affect how many immune cells are present in the brain, how strongly these cells become activated, and the number of brain cells that die in the disease. However, we still do not know how the immune cells outside the brain react to or contribute to the disease. This is something that we are investigating at the moment.
By studying how genetic differences in the immune system affect brain pathology in rats, we aim to identify biological processes that could be targeted for future treatment of Parkinson’s disease.