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Parkinson's influenced by more genes than previously thought

Analysis of a study published in a science journal   |   By Simon Leese   |   Published 3 February 2011
Study: Imputation of sequence variants for identification of genetic risks for Parkinson's disease: a meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies
By: International Parkinson Disease Genomics Consortium
In: The Lancet
What this study set out to do:

To identify new genes that might affect the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, beyond the two already confirmed to do so.

How they went about it:

The consortium of researchers performed a meta-analysis of the data from five previous genome-wide association studies (GWAS) from the US and Europe (looking at over 12,000 people with Parkinson’s and 21,000 healthy controls)  to identify genes associated with Parkinson’s disease. They then further analysed those genes that showed significant association and calculated their contribution to risk.


11 new loci were identified that exceeded the threshold for significance; six had been previously identified, but not confirmed, and five were entirely new.


The authors conclude that this study improves our understanding of the influence of genetics on Parkinson’s disease and suggests potential targets for future therapies. They point out that until recently Parkinson’s had long been thought to be a non-genetic disease and that it is advances in genotyping technology that have enabled such large-scale assessment of risk factors. 

Our view:

This study is of a large enough size to be able to draw statistically significant conclusions and so provides further confirmation that genetic variation plays a role in the risk of Parkinson’s disease. As the researchers themselves caution though, the work establishes only association and not causation. They speculate on possible biological explanations for the associative risks that they found, and investigation of these mechanisms is one obvious area for future study. Each individual locus that they identified has a small influence on risk, but in combination produce a much greater effect. Elucidation of the underlying mechanism involved could potentially bring effective treatments a step closer for a disease that affects 120,000 people in the UK.

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