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J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;45(2):349-62. doi: 10.3233/JAD-142841.

Mechanisms of molecular mimicry involving the microbiota in neurodegeneration.

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Department of Neurology, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, KY, USA.


The concept of molecular mimicry was established to explain commonalities of structure which developed in response to evolutionary pressures. Most examples of molecular mimicry in medicine have involved homologies of primary protein structure which cause disease. Molecular mimicry can be expanded beyond amino acid sequence to include microRNA and proteomic effects which are either pathogenic or salutogenic (beneficial) in regard to Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and related disorders. Viruses of animal or plant origin may mimic nucleotide sequences of microRNAs and influence protein expression. Both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases involve the formation of transmissible self-propagating prion-like proteins. However, the initiating factors responsible for creation of these misfolded nucleating factors are unknown. Amyloid patterns of protein folding are highly conserved through evolution and are widely distributed in the world. Similarities of tertiary protein structure may be involved in the creation of these prion-like agents through molecular mimicry. Cross-seeding of amyloid misfolding, altered proteostasis, and oxidative stress may be induced by amyloid proteins residing in bacteria in our microbiota in the gut and in the diet. Pathways of molecular mimicry induced processes induced by bacterial amyloid in neurodegeneration may involve TLR 2/1, CD14, and NFκB, among others. Furthermore, priming of the innate immune system by the microbiota may enhance the inflammatory response to cerebral amyloids (such as amyloid-β and α-synuclein). This paper describes the specific molecular pathways of these cross-seeding and neuroinflammatory processes. Evolutionary conservation of proteins provides the opportunity for conserved sequences and structures to influence neurological disease through molecular mimicry.


Alzheimer's disease; Parkinson's disease; amyloid; bacterial amyloid; metagenome; microbiota; neurodegenerative diseases; neuroinflammation; oxidative stress

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