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New genes linked to Parkinson's disease

7 February 2011
Appeared in BioNews 594

Scientists have linked five more gene variants to the risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Scientists from six countries showed - for the first time - that people carrying several individually low-risk gene variants had a substantially greater risk of developing Parkinson's than people carrying only one or two.

The researchers found the fifth of people carrying the highest number of genetic risk variants were 2.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson's than those with the lowest number. These newly-discovered, low-risk gene variants may account for Parkinson's disease cases previously attributed to environmental causes because they had no single genetic cause.

The study, led by Professor Nick Wood from the University of London's Institute of Neurology, compared the DNA of 12,000 people with Parkinson's and more than 21,000 without it, making it one of the largest studies of its kind.

The size of the study allowed the scientists to detect new gene variants, which only slightly increase the risk of developing Parkinson's. The study also confirmed the link between six previously identified gene variants and Parkinson's.

The researchers concluded: 'This study provides evidence that common genetic variation plays an important part in the cause of Parkinson's disease. We have confirmed a strong genetic component to Parkinson's disease, which, until recently, was thought to be completely caused by environmental factors'.

Parkinson's is a neurological condition caused by the loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain necessary for normal motor function. It usually appears late in life and affects around 120,000 people in the UK.

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