February 2, 2011

Five New Genetic Links To Parkinson’s Discovered

A team of international researchers has discovered five new genetic links to Parkinson's disease, a discovery that they say is "an exciting step forward" in better understanding the condition.

Parkinson's disease, a progressive condition marked by uncontrollable shaking and loss of muscle coordination, has previously been linked to the loss of cells that produce a neurotransmitter known as dopamine.

There currently is no known cure, but the condition can be treated with dopamine substitutes, and in 1997, the first six genetic links to the condition were discovered.

In this latest study, investigators from the US, the UK, Germany, France, Iceland, and the Netherlands analyzed approximately 8 million possible genetic mutations. Of those, they found five additional genes connected to Parkinson's, bringing the total of genetic markers linked to the condition to 11.

According to Telegraph Medical Correspondent Stephen Adams, the study was "the largest of its kind in the world" and "mapped and compared the DNA of 12,000 people with Parkinson's and more than 21,000 without it."

"The researchers found that the fifth of people with the highest number of genetic 'risk variants' were 2.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson's than those with the lowest number," Adams said.

Their findings have been published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

"This study provides evidence that common genetic variation plays an important part in the cause of Parkinson's disease," the researchers wrote, adding that they had "confirmed a strong genetic component to Parkinson's disease, which, until recently, was thought to be completely caused by environmental factors."

"The major common genetic variants for Parkinson's have been found," researcher Nick Wood, a professor at the Institute of Neurology at University College London, told AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng on Tuesday.

"We haven't put together all the pieces of the puzzle yet, but we're not that far off," he added, telling Chang that they a diagnostic test could be reading within the next few years.


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