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Dr. Gosal's Articles: PD Genetics - a Review | What Causes Parkinson's?

What Causes Parkinson's

Dr. David Gosal

Currently, there is a renaissance in the field of Parkinson's disease (PD) research. For the first time in many decades, new discoveries and treatments are making a positive impact on the lives of many people with Parkinson's.

One particular area of interest involves the actual root causes of Parkinson's disease. Whereas, traditionally, it was thought to be a resulting end process of various noxious environmental factors upon our brains, the situation now seems more detailed than this. From research, it is now evident that PD is a complex disorder with many likely environmental and genetic factors contributing towards the development of the disease.

Despite many years of detailed and painstaking research, no one single environmental causative agent has been directly implicated. Many have been at best only weakly associated with PD, such as exposure to

  • industrial chemicals and pollutants,
  • pesticides,
  • heavy metals,
  • well water.
In actual fact, though, the vast majority of individuals report no exposure to the above environmental factors.

Much more success has stemmed from genetic research. There is a small subgroup of PD patients (perhaps 1%) or so that have a strong family history of PD. In a small few individuals of this subgroup, definite genetic factors were found that caused PD. Detailed analysis of these factors have enabled us to understand this condition a whole lot more, and in fact, more has been learned about what exactly goes on inside these cells in a person with PD over the past 5 years than what was gathered over the previous 95 years, all because of these genetic factors!

Where does that leave the other 99.5% of you? Well, what happens is that there are probably many hundreds more of these 'genetic factors,' just like there are many hundreds of environmental factors. We all, including me, and other people without PD, probably have some also. They influence our susceptibility to attack by various harmful environmental factors, so just having these genetic factors alone isn't enough; you also have to be unlucky enough to get exposed to the particular environmental agent (whatever that may be).

It is sort of like having a cold. Have you ever noticed how some people never seem to develop a cold, whilst others are forever catching bugs? Well, this is in part caused by genetics. Some people have a stronger 'genetic constitution' than others, and are better able to withstand attack from environmental factors.

It is likely that this is the scenario for all disease. From heart disease to diabetes, genetic and environmental factors play a complementary role in disease causation. Does this mean, I hear you ask, that because these are genetic factors that other members of my family are at increased risk because I have Parkinson's? Probably not in absolute terms, as the vast majority of individuals with PD do not have a family history of disease.

We are simply interested in discovering these factors because they tell us so much about the condition. It is only through detailed knowledge of exactly what is going on that effective therapies and cures will come to light.

If you would like to participate in our research, if you would like to make a difference, please contact us at the following E-mail address:



  • Sign up online:Click here
  • Or print out this form:

    postal form

    and send it to:

    Dr. David Gosal,
    Research Registrar to Dr. Tim Lynch,
    Suite 1,
    Mater Private Hospital,
    Eccles Street, Dublin 7.

    March 2004

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