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New Parkinson's Disease Research - Compare Genetic Cases with Environmental - Symptoms and Treatments With Drugs

April 28th 2006

New Parkinson's Disease Research - Compare Genetic Cases with Environmental - Symptoms and Treatments With Drugs


Researchers at the Mayo Clinic compared patients with Parkinson’s disease which stems from genetic causes with patients who have no known cause.  These cases that have no known genetic cause make up 98% of all Parkinson’s cases.  They label these cases “sporadic”.  Parkinson’s disease affects approximately 1 million Americans causing tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement and instability. 

They found that the disease affects men twice as often as women.  The researchers speculate that this may be because women have a “protective effect” or mechanism.  For example, the hormone estrogen may act to protect women.     

It has been thought that Parkinson’s may be caused by environmental exposure to pesticides or chemicals, but researchers have also found six genetic mutations responsible for causing Parkinson's disease in about 2 percent of all cases. 


Parkinson’s disease is a motor-system disorder that usually affects one side of the body more than the other.  Earlier research found that Parkinson's disease symptoms are overwhelmingly asymmetric (i.e. affects one side more than the other) in the sporadic cases they studied.  The researchers were surprise that 90% of the genetic cases have asymmetric symptoms as well.

According to Dr. Ryan Uitti, a Mayo Clinic neurologist and lead investigator, “I really thought their Parkinson's disease symptoms would be pretty much the same on both sides of the body.  If there's a genetic cause for a neurological problem, given the fact that genes are in every cell, in both the right side of the brain and the left side, why would there be differences in symptoms between the two sides of the body?"

The asymmetric symptoms may have something to do with the “handedness” of the patient. "This is an area that's completely open to speculation," Uitti says. "One thought is that this is completely hard-wired. Just like one side of the brain controls language in most people, one side of the brain creates handedness, and maybe that circuit is more vulnerable to the causes of Parkinson's disease."  It may be possible that overuse of a motor circuit, similar to what occurs with writer's cramp, leads to damaging the circuit and predisposing symptoms to develop on one's predominant side.


Researchers studied 40 patients from two large family kindreds with a known genetic cause of Parkinson's disease and 1277 patients diagnosed with sporadic Parkinson's disease. This series of sporadic cases, which Uitti diagnosed between July 1, 1994 and June 30, 2004, is the largest reported patient series. There are relatively few people whose genetically-caused disease resembles the disease seen in sporadic cases, but researchers say further studies involving more of these individuals is needed to assess their current findings and to discover mechanisms responsible for these common characteristics.

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s there are treatments that may help relieve the symptoms. Your doctor should evaluate your symptoms before prescribing a treatment.  Most of the drugs used for treatment mimic the effects of dopamine, increase dopamine levels, or extend the action of dopamine in the brain.  So far the treatments have not been effective in stopping the progression of the disease.  The research is published in the April, 2006 edition of Archives of Neurology.

The research is published in the April, 2006 edition of Archives of Neurology.

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