Magazine article Science News

Parkinson's Disease Gene Mutation Found

Magazine article Science News

Parkinson's Disease Gene Mutation Found

Article excerpt

After announcing last November that they were closing in on a mutant gene that causes Parkinson's disease (SN: 11/30/96, p. 348), scientists have captured their quarry. Unexpectedly, the normal form of the gene encodes a protein implicated in Alzheimer's disease, another neurodegenerative disorder.

While only a small percentage of the millions of people worldwide with Parkinson's disease may have the mutant gene, researchers hope its discovery will provide a clue to the origins of the remaining cases.

"This is a great step forward for Parkinson's disease research that will really unlock the disorder's pathogenesis in the same way that finding [Alzheimer's] mutations unlocked the pathogenesis of that disease," predicts John Hardy of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.

Parkinson's disease results from the gradual death of brain cells, particularly those that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Such cells often control movement, which explains why tremors are a typical symptom of the disease.

Scientists have had few clues to what causes Parkinson's disease, although the brain cells of patients contain mysterious lumps called Lewy bodies. Some investigators believe Lewy bodies trigger cell death, while others suspect they are a by-product of that destruction.

In one Italian and three Greek families plagued by Parkinson's disease, researchers have now traced the origin of the illness to a mutation in the gene for a protein called alpha-synuclein. …

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