Gene controls age at onset of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases

DURHAM, N.C. - By applying a new technique that combines independent lines of genomic evidence, Duke University Medical Center researchers and colleagues have identified a single gene that influences the age at which individuals first show symptoms of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Such genes that can impact patients' age at onset for the two very prevalent neurological disorders are of particular interest as alternative targets for treatment, said Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Human Genetics. Drugs that delay the onset of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases beyond the normal human lifespan would effectively prevent them in patients at risk for the disorders, she added.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia among people over the age of 65, affecting up to 4 million Americans. Parkinson's disease -- characterized by tremors, stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slow movements and a lack of balance -- afflicts approximately 50,000 Americans each year. Both are complex disorders involving multiple genes.

"Although physicians generally consider Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases to be distinct disorders, the two exhibit a lot of overlap both clinically and pathophysiologically," said Jeffery Vance, M.D., director of Duke's Morris K. Udall Parkinson's Disease Research Center and associate director of the Duke Center for Human Genetics. "This study emphasizes the similarity between the two diseases by highlighting a single gene that influences their age of onset."

The team reports their findings in the Dec. 15, 2003, issue (available online Oct. 21) of Human Molecular Genetics and will present the work as a keynote paper at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, which will be held Nov. 4-8, in Los Angeles. The major funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Alzheimer

Contact: Kendall Morgan
Duke University Medical Center

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