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Parkinson's Disease

HEREDITARY PARKINSONS DISEASE

05/16/2000

Question:

IS PARKINSONS DISEASE HEREDITARY?

Answer:

Yes and No. PD does run in some families. In one such family a particular genetic marker was identified that codes for a protein called alpha-synuclein. The effects of the protein in the development of PD are under study. Since then other families with specific genetic markers have been documented, for example the parkin gene.

In contrast, twin studies have been less supportive of a hereditary basis for PD. One would expect identical twins (with identical genetic structures) to be more likely to have PD in both twins as compared to fraternal twins (with different genetic structures). Particularly in older subjects this was found NOT to be the case. Thus the majority of PD is sporadic rather than hereditary.

The most likely possibility is that there is a gene-environment interaction. Thus it is not enough to have a genetic defect, nor to have exposure to toxins thought to predispose to PD. Only when there is an overlap between these two factors does a person develop PD.

There are no definite answers yet and much research is required to clarify this issue.

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Response by:

Arif Dalvi, MD
Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati