AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 2, 2018


Gene Mutation Linked to Early Onset of Parkinson's Disease in Caucasians

A defect in a gene that produces dopamine in the brain appears to accelerate the onset of Parkinson’s disease, according to research from Iowa State University. The effect is particularly dramatic for people under age 50. Auriel Willette, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition; and Joseph Webb, a graduate research assistant, found on average that Caucasians with one bad version of the gene – guanosine triphosphate cyclohydrolase-1 or GCH1 – developed Parkinson’s symptoms five years earlier, and had a 23 percent increased risk for the disease. However, young-to-middle-age adults with the mutation had a 45 percent increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Researchers say the presence of the defective gene in older adults had minimal effect. Researchers know that rigidity and loss of muscle function associated with Parkinson’s is linked to a depletion of dopamine in the part of the brain that controls movement. Willette and Webb say they wanted to take a more holistic approach with this study to better understand how this gene affects the course of the disease and certain outcomes such as motor skills and anxiety.

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