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Genetic changes associated with Parkinson’s disease found in unexpected places

According to a new study carried out by researchers from the Van Andel Research Unit, the genetic changes associated with Parkinson’s are hiding in some very unusual places. These tiny changes in DNA are usually expected to be found in brain cells, but this latest study has shown that they’re also found in other tissues in the body, including the immune and developmental cells.

Although the changes within the DNA are very small, if enough changes accumulate, it can make a significant difference to the risk of developing Parkinson’s. As it’s now known that the areas where these changes take place can play a critical role in both the regulation of gene expression, and for matching a specific gene with its function or role, this is a very useful discovery.Furthermore, it’s given researchers an opportunity to continue their investigations into what causes or contributes to Parkinson’s.

We already know that between 5-10% of Parkinson’s cases are inherited, however little is known about the other 90%. Generally it’s believed that it’s a mix of both genetic and environmental factors, which lead to the hallmark clumping of abnormal proteins. As these proteins accumulate in the brain, they kill the dopamine producing cells which it turn affects voluntary movement.

The research team were able to analyse 21 of these risk areas or loci, in 77 different cell types. From their analysis they found that 12 loci across several different types of tissues showed these minute changes, meaning that there was an increased risk of Parkinson’s. Only one risk area was found in the substantia nigra where the dopamine producing neurons are affected, but other risk areas were discovered in liver, fat, immune and developmental cells. The discovery of risk loci in immune cells suggests that the disease may be linked to inflammation.

To find out exactly how these loci affect risk, much more work needs to be done. However, the results of this study reflect work done by other researchers investigating Parkinson’s, and now researchers are starting to suggest that Parkinson’s is more of a syndrome with a varied set of causes.

The results of the study were published in a recent edition of the online journal Scientific Reports.

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