Researchers say they have found the first laboratory evidence that a flawed gene is linked to Parkinson’s disease, a progressive brain disorder that affects a half-million Americans.
A mutation was found in an area of chromosome 4 by analyzing DNA from members of an Italian family that has had Parkinson’s appear in generations going back to the 1700s, according to Dr. Mihael H. Polymeropoulos of the National Institutes of Health.
“The etiology (cause) of Parkinson’s has been long debated - whether it is genetic or environmental,” Polymeropoulos said in an interview. “This is the first evidence that a genetic factor can, in fact, be the cause.”
Polymeropoulos is lead author of a study to be published today in the journal Science. The co-authors include other researchers from NIH, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., and the Institute of Neurological Science in Naples, Italy.
Finding the area of a chromosome where the genetic flaw exists, said Polymeropoulos, does not isolate a specific Parkinson’s gene, but it narrows the search from the 3.3 billion base pairs that make up all of the human genes to about 6 million base pairs.
Once the gene is located, it may then be possible to find the protein made by the gene and then to develop a drug to treat Parkinson’s.