Picornavirus May Be Linked to Parkinson's Disease through Viral Antigen in Dopamine-Containing Neurons of Substantia Nigra

Bo Niklasson*, Lars Lindquist, William Klitz, Sten Fredrikson, Roland Morgell, Reza Mohammadi, Netherlands Brain Bank, Yervand Karapetyan, Elisabet Englund

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease linked with the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the brain region called substantia nigra and caused by unknown pathogenic mechanisms. Two currently recognized prominent features of PD are an inflammatory response manifested by glial reaction and T-cell infiltration, as well as the presence of various toxic mediators derived from activated glial cells. PD or parkinsonism has been described after infection with several different viruses and it has therefore been hypothesized that a viral infection might play a role in the pathogenesis of the disease. We investigated formalin-fixed post-mortem brain tissue from 9 patients with Parkinson's disease and 11 controls for the presence of Ljungan virus (LV) antigen using a polyclonal antibody against the capsid protein of this recently identified picornavirus with neurotropic properties, suspected of being both a human and an animal pathogen. Evidence of viral antigen was found in 7 out of 9 Parkinson's disease cases and in only 1 out of 11 controls (p = 0.005). The picornavirus antigen was present in dopamine-containing neurons of the substantia nigra. We propose that LV or an LV-related virus initiates the pathological process underlying sporadic PD. LV-related picornavirus antigen has also been reported in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Potentially successful antiviral treatment in Alzheimer's disease suggests a similar treatment for Parkinson's disease. Amantadine, originally developed as an antiviral drug against influenza infection, has also been used for symptomatic treatment of patients with PD for more than 50 years and is still commonly used by neurologists today. The fact that amantadine also has an antiviral effect on picornaviruses opens the question of this drug being re-evaluated as potential PD therapy in combination with other antiviral compounds directed against picornaviruses.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2022


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