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Inflammation contributes to Parkinson's disease pathogenesis. We hypothesized that B lymphocytes are involved in Parkinson's disease progression. We measured antibodies to alpha-synuclein and tau in serum from patients with rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (n = 79), early Parkinson's disease (n = 50) and matched controls (n = 50). Rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder cases were stratified by risk of progression to Parkinson's disease (low risk = 30, high risk = 49). We also measured B-cell activating factor of the tumour necrosis factor receptor family, C-reactive protein and total immunoglobulin G. We found elevated levels of antibodies to alpha-synuclein fibrils in rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder patients at high risk of Parkinson's disease conversion (ANOVA, P < 0.001) and lower S129D peptide-specific antibodies in those at low risk (ANOVA, P < 0.001). An early humoral response to alpha-synuclein is therefore detectable prior to the development of Parkinson's disease. Peripheral B lymphocyte phenotyping using flow cytometry in early Parkinson's disease patients and matched controls (n = 41 per group) revealed reduced B cells in Parkinson's disease, particularly in those at higher risk of developing an early dementia [t(3) = 2.87, P = 0.01]. Patients with a greater proportion of regulatory B cells had better motor scores [F(4,24) = 3.612, P = 0.019], suggesting they have a protective role in Parkinson's disease. In contrast, B cells isolated from Parkinson's disease patients at higher risk of dementia had greater cytokine (interleukin 6 and interleukin 10) responses following in vitro stimulation. We assessed peripheral blood lymphocytes in alpha-synuclein transgenic mouse models of Parkinson's disease: they also had reduced B cells, suggesting this is related to alpha-synuclein pathology. In a toxin-based mouse model of Parkinson's disease, B-cell deficiency or depletion resulted in worse pathological and behavioural outcomes, supporting the conclusion that B cells play an early protective role in dopaminergic cell loss. In conclusion, we found changes in the B-cell compartment associated with risk of disease progression in rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (higher alpha-synuclein antibodies) and early Parkinson's disease (lower levels of B lymphocytes that were more reactive to stimulation). Regulatory B cells play a protective role in a mouse model, potentially by attenuating inflammation and dopaminergic cell loss. B cells are therefore likely to be involved in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease, albeit in a complex way, and thus warrant consideration as a therapeutic target.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Commun

Publication Date





B lymphocytes, Parkinson’s disease, alpha-synuclein antibodies, regulatory B cells