Parkinson’s disease (PD) is predominantly idiopathic in origin, and a large body of evidence indicates that gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunctions are a significant comorbid clinical feature; these dysfunctions include dysphagia, nausea, delayed gastric emptying, and severe constipation, all of which occur commonly before the onset of the well-known motor symptoms of PD. Based on a distinct distribution pattern of Lewy bodies (LB) in the enteric nervous system (ENS) and in the preganglionic neurons of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV), and together with the early onset of GI symptoms, it was suggested that idiopathic PD begins in the ENS and spreads to the central nervous system (CNS), reaching the DMV and the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc). These two areas are connected by a recently discovered monosynaptic nigro-vagal pathway, which is dysfunctional in rodent models of PD. An alternative hypothesis downplays the role of LB transport through the vagus nerve and proposes that PD pathology is governed by regional or cell-restricted factors as the leading cause of nigral neuronal degeneration. The purpose of this brief review is to summarize the neuronal electrophysiological findings in the SNpc and DMV in PD.
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