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Parkinson's disease study finds genetic links

23 August 2010
Appeared in BioNews 572

Genetic defects in the immune system may be associated with Parkinson's disease, according to a recent study published in Nature Genetics. The genome wide association study (GWAS) is the first to link mutations in a gene in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) region, which is known to be involved in immunity, to Parkinson's.

'People have speculated about a link between the immune system and Parkinson's disease for some time and this study suggests that the link is real…This is the best evidence we've seen so far', said Dr Cyrus Zabetian of the University of Washington, Seattle, who co-authored the study.

'We found strong evidence that a gene within the HLA region is associated with Parkinson's disease. We don't know specifically which gene because there is a cluster of genes in that region'.

The study carried out on 2000 people with late onset Parkinson's and 1986 people without Parkinson's also confirmed the role of three other genes - SNCA (α-synuclein), MAPT (microtubule-associated protein tau) and GAK (cyclin G–associated kinase). Individuals carrying mutations in all four genes identified in the study could have up to a five-fold increased susceptibility to the disease.

Dr Kieran Breen, director of research at Parkinson's UK, said: 'Previous studies have shown that inflammation does occur in the brains of people with Parkinson's, but identifying the potential factors that may lead to the death of nerve cells has been difficult'.

'This research, combined with Parkinson's UK funded research at Oxford University into the role of inflammation, may lead to the development of new drug treatments for the condition'.

Parkinson's affects one in 500 people in the UK, causing neurodegeneration that leads to tremors and uncontrolled muscle movements.

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