News Release

Progesterone’s protective potential against Parkinson’s


Peer-Reviewed Publication

Ruhr-University Bochum

Lennart Stegemann (left) and Paula Neufeld

image: Lennart Stegemann (left) and Paula Neufeld are working on their doctoral theses and were able to celebrate an early success with the early success with the high-profile publication. view more 

Credit: © RUB, Marquard

The second brain

The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a complex network that stretches along the entire gastrointestinal tract. It consists of about 100 million nerve cells, autonomously controls digestive processes and is often referred to as the second brain of humans. But its function is much more than digestion: recent research has shown that the ENS communicates closely with the central nervous system (CNS), i.e. the brain and spinal cord. “The communication between the ENS and the CNS is currently associated with the pathogenesis of various neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as depression,” explains Professor Carsten Theiß, Head of the Department of Cytology at Ruhr University Bochum. The gut-brain axis is not a one-way street; both nervous systems influence each other.

A person’s diet has a direct impact on the intestinal microbiome, which in turn interacts with the ENS. Studies show that the composition of the microbiome can also affect the CNS via the gut-brain axis, especially via the vagus nerve, and promote diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. A balanced diet can therefore not only contribute to the preservation of nerve cells in the intestine, but may also delay Parkinson’s disease for many years or even prevent it entirely.

The protective effect of progesterone

Medical doctoral students Paula Neufeld and Lennart Stegemann have now successfully demonstrated a protective effect of the natural steroid hormone progesterone on the nerve cells of the ENS. In a series of experiments, the duo cultivated nerve cells from the ENS over several weeks and treated them with a cell toxin to simulate harmful conditions similar to Parkinson’s disease. They found that the nerve cells that were additionally treated with progesterone died significantly less frequently than the untreated cells.

Paula Neufeld points out the significance of their discovery: “Our research provides important insights to complete our basic knowledge about the role of progesterone receptors in the enteric nervous system. This opens up completely new avenues for studying the neuroprotective mechanisms of action of progesterone inside and outside the intestinal tract.” Lennart Stegemann adds that “this study could potentially pave the way for new steroid hormone-based therapeutic approaches. There is also hope that steroid-based therapeutic approaches could help to slow down or even stop neurodegenerative diseases”.

Cooperation partners

The paper is the result of collaboration and well-established translational research between the Department of Cytology headed by Professor Carsten Theiß at the Ruhr University Bochum Medical Campus and Professor Matthias Vorgerd, senior consultant at the Clinic for Neurology at the BG University Hospital Bergmannsheil in Bochum.

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