They say that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." But this is definitely not true of the vagus nerve, which wanders from the stomach to the brain, passing through the heart, esophagus and lungs along the way.
A new study offers fresh support for an intriguing theory about the vagus nerve's role in Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder that causes tremors, gait difficulties and sometimes dementia in roughly 1 million Americans and as many as 10 million people worldwide.
This theory suggests the vagus nerve may be more than a highway for signals to travel to the brain from the many organs it touches. It may also be the conduit for transporting the protein alpha-synuclein from the stomach to the brain, where it forms telltale clumps in Parkinson's sufferers.
If true, this theory would pinpoint a possible origin of the degenerative brain disorder — in the gut. It would also confirm the centrality of this mysterious protein, whose precise role in Parkinson's is not well understood.