Research NewsNeurobiology

Gene Discovery Offers Tentative Clues to Parkinson's

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Science  27 Jun 1997:
Vol. 276, Issue 5321, pp. 1973
DOI: 10.1126/science.276.5321.1973

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Parkinson's disease is caused by the gradual die-off of a set of brain neurons that make the neurotransmitter dopamine. Now, neurobiologists may have found a much-needed clue to what causes the death of those neurons. On page 2045, a research team reports identifying a gene that, when defective, causes an inherited form of Parkinson's in a large Italian family. The gene, which encodes a brain protein of unknown function called-synuclein, will probably account for, at most, only a few percent of all cases of the disease. But if researchers can figure out just how the mutated-synuclein exerts its effects, they may also gain insight into the cause of the much larger number of cases of nonhereditary Parkinson's disease.