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Human antibodies to tobacco virus could protect people from Parkinson’s

by Gary Mans, HSC communications and marketing last modified Apr 04, 2013 10:16 AM

A virus typically associated with tobacco, but also known to be present in spinach, tomatoes, petunias and other vegetables and household plants, may help protect people from Parkinson’s Disease.

Researchers from the University of Louisville’s Departments of Neurology and Physiology published their findings April 3 in PLOS One demonstrating that men who smoke have antibodies to the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). These antibodies may interact with a protein in a cell’s energy generation system and inhibit the development of Parkinson’s Disease.

Also of significant note, to the researchers’ knowledge, this is the first reporting of the presence of antibodies to TMV in humans.

The research team, composed of Ruolan Liu, assistant professor, neurology; Radhika Vaishnav, assistant professor, neurology; Andrew Roberts, associate professor, physiology; and Robert Friedland, professor, neurology, analyzed blood samples of 60 men, 20 each who are smokers, smokeless tobacco users or non-tobacco users. They found the highest levels of the antibodies to TMV in those who smoked.

“It is quite remarkable that a plant that creates so many health problems for people may harbor a virus that has a protective role for people,” said Friedland, the study’s senior author.

“We still have a significant amount of research to undertake to determine what mechanisms may be involved, the molecular pathways that are in play and much more. However, it is valuable to consider the potential implications of plant viruses to human health and disease.”

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