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Genetics Not Significant To Developing Typical Parkinson's Disease

Genetic factors do not play a significant role in causing the most common form of Parkinson's disease (PD), according to a study to be published in the January 27, 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association(1). This epidemiological study, the largest of its kind to investigate the role of genetic or environmental causes of PD, examined 19,842 white male twins enrolled in a large registry of World War II veteran twins.

"This study cuts a wide swath of research opportunities into causes of Parkinson's disease by suggesting that heredity is not a major etiologic component in the largest group of PD patients, those whose disease began after age 50," said Michael D. Walker, M.D., Director of the Division of Stroke, Trauma, and Neurodegenerative Disorders at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The study was funded by the NINDS and The Valley Foundation of Los Gatos, California, a non-profit organization that supports a variety of health care causes, including PD.

For many years, researchers have speculated about the causes of PD, with the primary considerations being genetic determinants and environmental factors. The current study suggests that typical PD -- defined as PD diagnosed after age 50 -- has no genetic component, while the opposite was observed in a small subset (six pairs) of identical and fraternal twins whose PD was diagnosed before age 51 in at least one twin. Investigators concluded that undetermined environmental factors, not genetics, are likely triggers of typical PD and they suggest that research concerning a genetic link to PD be directed toward subjects with earlier onset of the disease.

Twin studies have proven particularly useful in distinguishing the relative contributions of genetics and environment to the cause of various diseases. In the JAMA study, the investigators theorized that if PD had a genetic basis, both individuals in an identical twin pair would be expected to
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Contact: Margo Warren or Paul Girolami
301-496-5751
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
26-Jan-1999


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