NeuroX - an advanced gene chip - helped researchers identify six new genetic risk factors for Parkinson's.
Image credit: National Human Genome Research Institute
The research team, including senior study author Andrew Singleton, PhD, a scientist at the National Institute on Aging, recently published their findings in the journal Nature Genetics.
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative neurological disorder affecting more than 500,000 people in the US. Every year, approximately 50,000 more are diagnosed with the disorder, and these numbers are expected to increase along with the aging population.
The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is unclear. However, recent research has identified a number of genes believed to increase a person's susceptibility to the disorder.
In this latest study, Singleton and colleagues set out to add to these findings by conducting a large-scale meta-analysis of existing genome-wide association studies, involving 13,708 individuals with Parkinson's disease and 95,282 controls.
The team collaborated with numerous public and private organizations to gather the data, including the US Department of Defense and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
24 genetic risk factors for Parkinson's confirmed, including six new ones
From their analysis - which tested more than 7.8 million genetic variants - the researchers identified 26 genetic variants that may increase a person's risk of developing Parkinson's. In some cases, they found that individuals who possess these variants may be up to three times more likely to develop the disorder.
The researchers then looked to confirm whether these 26 variants, alongside six additional variants previously associated with Parkinson's, increased risk of the disease among 5,353 individuals with the disease and 5,551 controls.
They did this by comparing the 32 genetic variants with those on an advanced gene chip called NeuroX, which holds around 24,000 common genetic variants linked to an array of neurodegenerative disorders.
From this, Singleton and colleagues were able to confirm 24 genetic variants that increase an individual's risk of Parkinson's disease, six of which were previously undiscovered.
Speaking on the importance of these findings, Singleton says:
"Unraveling the genetic underpinnings of Parkinson's is vital to understanding the multiple mechanisms involved in this complex disease, and hopefully, may one day lead to effective therapies."
Some of the newly identified genetic risk factors, the researchers say, are believed to play a part in Gaucher's disease - an inherited disorder in which the body is unable to produce the required amount of the enzyme glucocerebrosidase. This causes a build-up of fatty substances in parts of the body, including the brain.
The genes in question regulate inflammation, dopamine - a chemical messenger for nerve cells - and a protein called alpha-synuclein, which has been shown to accumulate in the brains of some people with Parkinson's.
According to study author Margaret Sutherland, PhD, a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, these findings show how useful the NeuroX chip could be for increasing understanding of Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative disorders.
"The power of these high-tech, data-driven genomic methods allows scientists to find the needle in the haystack that may ultimately lead to new treatments," she adds.
Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles, which detailed the discovery of a gene involved in Parkinson's, called MUL1.