Novartis focuses on improving PARKIN control

Last week, as everyone was preparing for Christmas celebrations, researchers at the pharmaceutic company Novartis published new research on a gene that is involved with Parkinson’s, called PARKIN (or PARK2).

They used a new gene editing technology – called CRISPR – to conduct a large screening study to identify proteins that are involved with the activation of PARKIN.

In today’s post we will look at what PARKIN does, review the research report, and discuss how these results could be very beneficial for the Parkinson’s community.

Source: Novartis

As many people within the Parkinson’s community will be aware, 2017 represented the 200th anniversary of the first report of Parkinson’s disease by James Parkinson.

It also the 20th anniversary of the discovery of first genetic mutation (or variant) that increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s. That genetic variation occurs in a region of DNA (a gene) called ‘alpha synuclein’. Yes, that same alpha synuclein that seems to play such a critical role in Parkinson’s (Click here to read more about the 20th anniversary).

In 2018, we will be observing the 20th anniversary of the second genetic variation associated with Parkinson.

That gene is called PARKIN:

Title: Mutations in the parkin gene cause autosomal recessive juvenile parkinsonism.
Authors: Kitada T, Asakawa S, Hattori N, Matsumine H, Yamamura Y, Minoshima S, Yokochi M, Mizuno Y, Shimizu N
Journal: Nature. 1998 Apr 9; 392(6676):605-8
PMID: 9560156

In 1998, Japanese researchers published this report based on 5 individuals from 4 Japanese families who were affected by juvenile-onset Parkinson’s. In family 1, the affected individual was a female, 43 years old, born of first-cousin parents, and her two younger brothers are healthy. Her condition was diagnosed in her teens and it had then progressed very slowly afterwards. Her response to L-dopa was very positive, but L-dopa-induced dyskinesia were frequent. In family 2-4, affected individuals (born to unrelated parents) exhibited very similar clinical features to the subject in family 1. The age of onset was between 18 to 27 years of age.

Using previous research and various techniques the investigators were able to isolate genetic variations that were shared between the 5 affected individuals. They ultimately narrowed down their search to a section of DNA containing 2,960 base pairs, which encoded a protein of 465 amino acids.

They decided to call that protein PARKIN.

PARKIN Protein. Source: Wikipedia

How much of Parkinson’s is genetic?

Continue reading “Novartis focuses on improving PARKIN control”

The other anniversary: 20 years of Alpha Synuclein


On the 27th June, 1997, a research report was published in the prestigious scientific journal ‘Science’ that would change the world of Parkinson’s disease research forever.

And I am not exaggerating here.

The discovery that genetic variations in a gene called alpha synuclein could increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease opened up whole new areas of research and eventually led to ongoing clinical trials of potential therapeutic applications.

Todays post recounts the events surrounding the discovery, what has happened since, and we will discuss where things are heading in the future.


Source: listchallenge

It is fair to say that 1997 was an eventful year.

In world events, President Bill Clinton was entering his second term, Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State for the USA, Tony Blair became the prime minister of the UK, and Great Britain handed back Hong Kong to China.


#42 – Bill Clinton. Source: Wikipedia

In the world of entertainment, author J. K. Rowling’s debut novel “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was published by Bloomsbury, and Teletubbies, South Park, Ally McBeal, and Cold Feet (it’s a British thing) all appeared on TV for the first time, amusing and entertaining the various age groups associated with them.


South Park. Source: Hollywoodreporter

Musically, rock band Blur released their popular hit song ‘Song 2‘ (released 7th April), “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by the Verve entered the UK charts at number 2 in June, and rapper Notorious B.I.G. was killed in a drive by shooting. Oh, and let’s not forget that “Tubthumping” (also known as “I Get Knocked Down”) by Chumbawamba was driving everybody nuts for its ubiquitous presence.

And at the cinemas, no one seemed to care about anything except a silly movie called Titanic.


Titanic. Source: Hotspot

Feeling old yet?

Continue reading “The other anniversary: 20 years of Alpha Synuclein”

Something ‘new and fresh’ from Korea


The word ‘Kainos‘ comes from ancient Greek, meaning ‘new’ or ‘fresh’.

A company in South Korea has chosen to use this word as their name.


In today’s post we will discuss a clinical trial that started this week that is taking a ‘new and fresh’ approach to treating Parkinson’s disease.


Enchanting country. Source: Eoasia

South Korea is an amazing place, with a long and proud history of innovation and technological development. This week a biotech company there called Kainos Medicine has added itself to that history by initiating a clinical trial that takes a new approach to treating Parkinson’s disease.

As Kainos Medicine points out on their website, the current treatment options for Parkinson’s disease function by alleviating symptoms, for example L-dopa simply replaces the lost dopamine rather than treating the underlying disease. Kainos’s new experimental treatment, called KM-819, is trying to help in a different way: it is trying to slow down the cell death that is associated with Parkinson’s.

How does it do that?

KM-819 is an inhibitor of Fas Associated Factor 1 (or FAF1).

And what is FAF1?

Fas Associated Factor 1 is a protein that interacts with and enhances the activity of a protein on the surface of cells with the ominous name: Fas Cell Surface Death Receptor…and yes, the use of the word ‘death’ in that name should give you some indication as to the function of this protein. When Fas Cell Surface Death Receptor gets activated on any given cell, things have definitely taken a turn for the worse for that particular cell.

Fas Cell Surface Death Receptor (also called CD95) is an initiator of apoptosis.


FasSource: Sciencedirect

What is apoptosis?

Apoptosis (from Ancient Greek for “falling off”) is the process of programmed cell death – a cell initiates a sequence of events that result in the cell shutting down and dying.


The process of apoptosis. Source: Abnova

Apoptosis is a very clean and organise process of a cell being removed from the body, with it eventually being broken down into small units (called apoptotic bodies) which are consumed by other cells.

Sounds interesting, but what research has been done on FAF1 and Parkinson’s disease?

Back in 2008, this research report was published:


Title: Fas-associated factor 1 and Parkinson’s disease.
Authors: Betarbet R, Anderson LR, Gearing M, Hodges TR, Fritz JJ, Lah JJ, Levey AI.
Journal: Neurobiol Dis. 2008 Sep;31(3):309-15.
PMID: 18573343   (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

The researcher who conducted this study noticed that the FAF1 gene was located in the ‘PARK 10’ region of chromosome 1. PARK regions are areas of our DNA where mutations (or disruptions to the sequence of DNA) can result in increased vulnerability to Parkinson’s disease (there are currently at least 20 PARK regions). PARK 10 is a region of DNA in which mutations have been associated with late-onset Parkinson’s disease. The scientists thought this was interesting and investigated FAF1 in the context of Parkinson’s disease.

When they looked at postmortem brains, the researchers found that FAF1 levels were significantly increased in brains from people with Parkinson’s disease when compared to brains from healthy control cases. In addition, increased levels of FAF1 exaggerated the cell death observed in different cell culture models of Parkinson’s disease, suggesting an important role for FAF1 in sporadic Parkinson’s disease.

NOTE: More recently, a closer analysis of the PARK10 region resulted in a shrinking of the area which resulted in FAF1 falling outside the PARK10 domain (click here and here to see that research). We are currently not sure if genetic variations in the FAF1 gene infer vulnerability to PD.

This initial work led others to researching FAF1 in the context of Parkinson’s disease and in 2013 this research report was published:


Title: Accumulation of the parkin substrate, FAF1, plays a key role in the dopaminergic neurodegeneration.
Authors: Sul JW, Park MY, Shin J, Kim YR, Yoo SE, Kong YY, Kwon KS, Lee YH, Kim E.
Journal: Hum Mol Genet. 2013 Apr 15;22(8):1558-73.
PMID: 23307929

These researchers found that Parkinson’s associated protein, Parkin (which we have briefly discussed in a previous post) labels FAF1 for disposal. And they found in the absence of Parkin there was a build up of FAF1, making the cells more vulnerable to apoptosis. They followed this finding up by demonstrating that FAF1-mediated cell death was rescued by re-introducing the normal parkin protein. Interestingly, there was no rescue when the mutant parkin protein was re-introduced. These results suggest that normal Parkin acts as an inhibitor FAF1.

To further investigate this finding, the researchers next modelled Parkinson’s disease in genetically engineered mice which had the FAF1 gene removed. They found that the behaviour motor problems and loss of dopamine cells in the brain was significantly reduced in the FAF1 mutant mice, indicating that the FAF1 pathway could be a worthy target for future Parkinson’s disease treatment.

And this and other research has led those same researchers to the clinical trial started in Korea by Kainos Medicine.

So what is the clinical trial all about?

The company will be conducting a phase 1 dose-escalation clinical trial in South Korea, which will evaluate the safety, tolerability, and biochemical properties of their drug KM-819 in 48 healthy adults (click here to read more about the trial).

This is the very first step in the clinical trial process.

The study is split in two parts: Part A is a single dose of KM-819 or a placebo given in ascending doses to participants. And Part B is the same except that multiple ascending doses of the compound will be given to the participants.

The trial will last around six weeks, and – according to the press release – the first subject has just been dosed.

What does it all mean?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition, which means that certain cells in the brain are dying. Medication that could block that cell death from occurring represents an interesting way of treating the disease and this is what Kainos are attempting to do.

Blocking or slowing cell death is a tricky business, however, because in other parts of the body, cell death is a very necessary biological process. In some areas of our body, cells are born, conduct a particular function and die off relatively quickly. By slowing that cell death in the brain which may be a good thing, we may be causing issues elsewhere in the body, which would be bad.

In addition there has recently been concerns raised about the clinical use of apoptosis inhibitors, such as this study:


Title: Caspase Inhibition Prevents Tumor Necrosis Factor-α-Induced Apoptosis and Promotes Necrotic CellDeath in Mouse Hepatocytes in Vivo and in Vitro.
Authors: Ni HM, McGill MR, Chao X, Woolbright BL, Jaeschke H, Ding WX.
Journal: Am J Pathol. 2016 Oct;186(10):2623-36.
PMID: 27616656

The researchers who conducted this study found that using apoptosis inhibitors on a mouse model of liver disease did stop apoptosis from occurring, but this didn’t save the cells which eventually died via another cell death mechanism called necrosis (from the Greek meaning “death, the act of killing” – lots of Greek in this post!). In necrosis, rather than breaking down in a systematic and organised fashion (apoptosis), a cell will simply rupture and fall apart. Very messy.

Thus there is the possibility with the Kainos drug, KM-819, will protect cells in the Parkinsonian brain from dying via apoptosis, but as the disease continues to progress those cells may become more ill and eventually disappear as a result of necrosis. That said, if the drug can slow down Parkinson’s disease, it would still represent a major step forward in our treatment of the condition!

The connection with Parkin is also very interesting.

It would be wise for future phase 2 and 3 trials – which will test efficacy – to include (or specifically recruit) people with Parkinson’s disease who have mutations in the Parkin gene. This is a very small proportion of the overall Parkinson’s community (approx. 20% of people with early onset PD have a Parkin mutation – click here to read more on this), but if the drug is going to be effective, these would be the best people to initially test it in.

This will be a very interesting set of clinical trials to watch. The phase 1 safety trial will be very quick (6 weeks), and hopefully Kainos Medicine will be able to progress rapidly to a phase 2 efficacy trial. Fingers crossed for positive results.

The banner for today’s post was sourced from Koreabizwire

Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease


A community in New Brunswick (Canada) was recently shocked to discover that a 2 year old boy in their midst had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (Click here to read more).

Yes, you read that correctly, it’s not a typo: a 2 year old boy.

Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease is an extremely rare version of the condition we discuss here at the Science of Parkinson’s. It is loosely defined as being ‘diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease under the age of 20’. The prevalence is unknown, but there is a strong genetic component to form of the condition. In today’s post we will review what is known about Juvenile-onset and look at new research about a gene that has recently been discovered to cause a type of Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease.


Dr Henri Huchard. Source: Wikipedia

In 1875, Dr Henri Huchard (1844-1910; a French neurologist and cardiologist) described the first case of a child who, at just 3 years of age, presented all the clinical features of Parkinson’s disease. Since that report, there have been many studies detailing the condition that has become known as ‘juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease’.

What is juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease?

Basically, it is a form of Parkinson’s disease that affects children and young people under the age of 20. The defining feature is the age of onset. The average age of onset is approximately 12 years of age (with the majority of cases falling between 7 and 16 years) and males are affected by this condition more than females (at a rate of approximately 5:1).

The actual frequency of juvenile-onset parkinson’s is unknown given how rare it is. When researcher look at people with early onset Parkinson’s disease (that is diagnosis before the age of 40; approximately 5% of the Parkinson’s community), they have found that between 0.5 – 5% of that group of people were diagnosed before 20 years of age. This suggests that within just the Parkinson’s community, the frequency of juvenile-onset parkinson’s is at the most 0.25% (or 2.5 people per 1000 people with Parkinson’s). Thus it is obviously a very rare condition.

It is interesting to note that Lewy bodies (the clusters of aggregated protein that classically characterise the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease) are very rare in cases of juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease. To our knowledge there has been only one case of Lewy bodies in juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease (Click here to read more on this). This suggests that the juvenile-onset form of Parkinson’s disease may differ from other forms of the condition in its underlying biology.

Do we know what causes juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease?

There is a very strong genetic component to juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease. In fact, the incidence of Parkinsonism in relatives of people with juvenile-onset parkinson’s disease is higher than in the general public AND in the relatives of people with other forms of Parkinson’s disease.

Genetic mutations in three genes are recognised as causing juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease. The three genes are known to the Parkinson’s world as they are all PARK genes (genetic variations that are associated with Parkinson’s). Those three genes are:

  • Parkin (PARK2)
  • PTEN-induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1 or PARK6)
  • DJ1 (PARK7)

In juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease, all of these mutations are associated with autosomal recessive – meaning that two copies of the genetic variation must be present in order for the disease to develop.

Parkin mutations account for the majority of juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease cases. Affected individuals have a slowly progressing condition that is L-dopa responsive. Dystonia (abnormal muscle tone resulting in muscular spasm and abnormal posture) is very common at the onset of the condition, particularly in the lower limbs.

Can the condition be treated with L-dopa?

The answer is: ‘Yes, but…’

L-dopa (or dopamine replacement) treatment is the standard therapy for alleviating the motor features of Parkinson’s disease.

The majority of people with juvenile-onset parkinson’s respond well to L-dopa, but in the Parkin mutation version individuals will typically begin to experience L-dopa-induced motor fluctuations (dyskinesias) early in that treatment regime.

What research is currently being done on this condition?

Given that cases are so very rare and so few, it is difficult to conduct research on this population of individuals. Most of the research that is being conducted is focused on the genetics underlying the condition.

And recent that research lead to the discovery of a new genetic variation that causes juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease:


Title: Discovery of a frameshift mutation in podocalyxin-like (PODXL) gene, coding for a neural adhesion molecule, as causal for autosomal-recessive juvenile Parkinsonism.
Authors: Sudhaman S, Prasad K, Behari M, Muthane UB, Juyal RC, Thelma BK.
Journal: Journal Med Genet. 2016 Jul;53(7):450-6.
PMID: 26864383           (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

The researchers who wrote this article were presented with a 10 member Indian family from Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. Of the 8 children in the  family, 3 were affected by Parkinsonian features (tremor, slowness, rigidity and gait problems) that began between 13 and 17 years of age. The researchers conducted DNA sequencing and found that none of the three affected siblings had any of the known Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease genetic mutations (specifically, mutations in the genes PARK2, PINK1and DJ1).

They then compared the DNA from the three siblings with the rest of the family and found a genetic variant in a gene called podocalyxin-like (or PODXL). It must be noted that PODXL is a completely novel gene in the world of Parkinson’s disease research, which makes it very interesting. PODXL has never previously been associated with any kind of Parkinson’s disease, though it has been connected with two types of cancer (embryonal carcinoma and periampullary adenocarcinoma).

The researchers then turned to their genetic database of 280 people with Parkinson’s disease have had their genomes sequenced. The researchers wanted to determine if any genetic variants in the PODXL gene were present in other suffers of Parkinson’s disease, but had not been picked up as a major contributing factor. They found three unrelated people with PODXL mutations. All three had classical Parkinson’s features, and were negative for mutations in the Parkin, PINK1 and DJ1 genes.

The researchers concluded that the PODXL gene may be considered as a fourth causal gene for Juvenile-onset Parkinson’s disease, but they indicated that further investigations in other ethnic groups are required.


The banner for today’s post was sourced from ClipArtBest

The Autistic spectrum and Parkinson’s disease

The word Autism on a cork notice board

In August of 2015, groups of scientists from North Carolina and Perth (Australia) published a report together in which they noted the high occurrence of Parkinson’s-like features in aging people with Autism.

In this post we will have a look at what links (if any) there may be between Autism and Parkinson’s disease.

Recent estimates suggest that the prevalence of Autistic Spectrum Disorders in US children is approximately 1.5 %. Autism is generally associated with children, and in this way it is almost a mirror opposite of Parkinson’s disease (which is usually associated with the elderly). A fair number of people who were diagnosed with Autism early in their lives are now reaching the age of retirement, but we know very little about what happens in this condition in the aged.

What is Autism?

This is one of those questions that gets people into trouble. There is a great deal of debate over how this condition should be defined/described. We here at SoPD will chose to play it safe and provide the UK National Health System (NHS)‘s description:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. In children with ASD, the symptoms are present before three years of age, although a diagnosis can sometimes be made after the age of three. It’s estimated that about 1 in every 100 people in the UK has ASD. More boys are diagnosed with the condition than girls.

Wikipedia also has a very thorough page Autism

So what was reported in the study finding a connection between Autism and Parkinson’s disease?

Last year two groups of researchers (from North Carolina, USA and Perth, Australia) noticed an interesting trend in some of the aging Autistic subjects they were observing.

They published their findings in the Journal of Neurodevelopmental disorders:


Title: High rates of parkinsonism in adults with autism.
Authors: Starkstein S, Gellar S, Parlier M, Payne L, Piven J.
Journal: Journal of Neurodev Disord. 2015;7(1):29.
PMID: 26322138         (This report is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

The article reports the findings of two studies:

Study I (North Carolina) included 19 men with Autism (with an average age of 57 years). When the researchers investigated the cardinal features of Parkinson’s disease, they found that 22 % (N = 4) of the subjects exhibited bradykinesia (or slowness of movement), 16 % (N = 3) had a resting tremor, 32 % (N = 6) displayed rigidity, and 15 % (N = 2) had postural instability issues.

In fact, three of the 19 subjects (16 %) actually met the criteria for a full diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (one of who was already responding well to L-dopa treatment).

Study II (Perth) was a larger study, involving 32 men and 5 women (with an average age of 51 years). 46 % (N = 17) of the subjects in this study exhibited bradykinesia, 19 % (N = 7) had a resting tremor, 19 % (N = 7) displayed rigidity, and 19 % (N = 7) had postural instability problems. In study II, 12 of the 37 subjects (32 %) met the full diagnostic criteria for Parkinson’s disease.

Given this collective result, the researchers concluded that there may well be an increased frequency of Parkinsonism in the aged people with Autism. They emphasize, however, the need to replicate the study before definitive conclusions can be made.

So how could this be happening?

The short answer is: we don’t have a clue.

The results of this study need to be replicated a few times before we can conclusively say that there is a connection. There are, however, some interesting similarities between Autism and Parkinson’s disease, for example (as the NHS mentioned above) males are more affected than females in both conditions.

There are genetic variations that both Parkinson’s and Autism share. Approximately 10-20% of people with Parkinson’s disease have a genetic variation in one of the PARK genes (we have discussed these before – click here to read that post). The genetics of Autism are less well understood. If you have one child with Autism, the risk for the next child also having the condition is only 2-6% (genetically speaking, it should be a 25-50% level of risk).

There are, however, some genes associated with Autism and one of those genes is the Parkinson’s associated gene, PARK2. it has previously been reported that variants in the PARK2 gene (Parkin) in children with Autism (click here for more on this).

It would be interesting to have a look at the brains of aged people with Autism. This could be done with brain scans (DAT-SCAN), but also at the postmortem stage to see if their brains have alpha synuclein clusters and Lewy bodies – the pathological characteristics of Parkinson’s disease. These studies may well be underway – we’ll keep an eye out for any reports.

Alternative explanations?

There are alternative explanations for the connection between Autism and Parkinson’s disease suggested by this study. For example, 36 of the 56 subjects involved in the two studies were on medication for their Autism (the medication is called neuroleptics). Those medications did not appear to explain the rates of parkinsonism in either study (after excluding subjects currently on neuroleptic medications, the frequency of parkinsonism was still 20 %). Most of the subjects in both studies have been prescribed neuroleptics at some point in their lives. Thus it is possible that long-term use of neuroleptics may have had the effect of increasing the risk for parkinsonism later in life. This is pure speculation, however, and yet to be tested. Any future studies would need to investigate this as a possibility.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or loved one on the Autism spectrum, it is important to understand that the study summarised here are novel results that are yet to be replicated. And if it turns out that adults with Autism do have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease it does not necessarily mean that they will – simply that they are at greater risk than normal. It is best to consult a medical practitioner if you have further concerns.

The banner at the  today’s post was sourced from Sailing Autistic Seas.

Finding PARK16


The genetics of any disease is very complicated. We are, however, gradually identifying the genetic mutations/variations that are associated with Parkinson’s disease and coming to understand that role of those genes in the condition. This week, researchers have identified a mutation underlying one form of Parkinson’s disease, which is associated with the name PARK16.

In this post we will review what the scientists have found and what it means.


A map of some of the genetic interactions associated with Parkinson’s disease. Source: Pubmed

As the image above demonstrates the genetic interactions underlying some forms of Parkinson’s disease are extremely complicated. And it is important to note, dear reader, that that schematic provides only a partially completed picture. It maps out only a portion of the interactions that we know of, and we can only guess at the interactions that we don’t know of. Complicated right?

Approximately 10-15% of cases of Parkinson’s disease are associated with a genetic variation in the DNA that renders an individual vulnerable to the condition.

The region of DNA in which a mutations occurs is called the ‘Locus’. There are more than 20 loci (these  regions of mutations) now associated with Parkinson’s disease. The loci are referred to as ‘PARK genes’.

What are the PARK genes?

Below is a table of the first 15 PARK genes to be associated with Parkinson’s disease:


A list of the PARK genes. Source: JKMA

The PARK genes in the table are numbered 1 to 15 (16-20 are not mentioned here), and their genetic location is indicated under the label ‘Chromosome’ (this tells us which chromosome the locus is located on and where on that chromosome it is). The specific gene and protein that are affected by the mutation are also labelled (for example the gene (and protein) associated with PARK8 is Lrrk2). It is interesting to note that the gene responsible for making the protein alpha synuclein (SNCA) has two PARK gene loci within it (PARK 1 and PARK4), further emphasizing the importance of this gene in the disease.

You may also notice that there are a lot of unknowns under the labels ‘protein function’ and ‘Pathology’ (with regards to Parkinson’s disease), this is because we are still researching these genes. Furthermore, PARK3 and PARK11 both have question marks beside the genes associated with these loci, indicating that we are still not sure if these are the genes responsible for the dysfunction we observed in these forms of Parkinson’s disease.

Obviously the PARK  genes list is a work in progress.

That said, this week researchers from the University of Tehran (Iran) published a report about the gene they believe is responsible for the dysfunction associated with PARK16 mutations:


Title: Mutation in ADORA1 identified as likely cause of early-onset parkinsonism and cognitive dysfunction.
Author: Jaberi E, Rohani M, Shahidi GA, Nafissi S, Arefian E, Soleimani M, Moghadam A, Arzenani MK, Keramatian F, Klotzle B, Fan JB, Turk C, Steemers F, Elahi E.
Journal: Mov Disord. 2016 May 2.
PMID: 27134041

The researchers had two siblings (brothers) referred to them that had been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease (2 siblings from a family of 8 children). Both of the siblings were in their early 30s, but had exhibited Parkinson’s-like features since their early 20s. They had responded to L-dopa therapy, but involuntary movements (L-dopa-induced dyskinesias) had started to appear after just 2 years of treatment.

Naturally the researchers were keen to determine if there was a genetic reason for this situation. To this end, they conducted whole genome analysis to determine what genetic variations the two siblings shared.

They took DNA from white blood cells of the 10 family members (two parents and eight children), and sequenced the genomes for analysis. What they found was two regions of DNA that were the same in the two affected siblings, but different in the rest of the family. In one of these regions was in the gene ADORA1, which encodes a receptor for a particular protein that can influence dopamine release. Importantly, the ADORA1 gene is located within the domain of the PARK16 locus.

When the researcher checked the sibling’s genetic variation inside the ADORA1 gene on a database of 60,000 normal individuals, they found only one other individual who was partially affected by it, suggesting that this mutation is very rare. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that variations in ADORA1 may explain some of the cases of PARK16 -associated Parkinson’s disease.

So what does it all mean?

It means that we have another piece of the puzzle, and each week other pieces are falling into place. ADORA1 may not be the only genetic variant within the PARK16 locus, but it will explain some cases of PARK16 Parkinson’s disease. Next we need to work out what the variation does to the gene function of ADORA1.

And that will hopefully be a future blog post.

An update on the connection between Melanoma and Parkinson’s disease

We have previously discussed the strange connection between Melanoma and Parkinson’s disease (click here to read that post).


That post included the curious observations that:

  • People with Parkinson’s disease are 2-8 times more likely to develop melanoma than people without Parkinson’s.
  • People with melanoma are almost 3 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than someone without melanoma.

And we have no idea why (there is no shared genetic predisposition for the two conditions).

Research published this week, however, may begin to explain part of the connection:


Title: Parkinson disease (PARK) genes are somatically mutated in cutaneous melanoma.
Authors: Inzelberg R, Samuels Y, Azizi E, Qutob N, Inzelberg L, Domany E, Schechtman E, Friedman E.
Journal: Neurol Genet. 2016 Apr 13;2(3):e70.
PMID: 27123489     (This research article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)

In this study, the scientists looked at somatic mutations in cells from 246 tissue samples of melanoma.

What are somatic mutations?

Somatic mutations are genetic alteration that have been acquired by a cell that can then be passed to the progeny of that mutated cell (via cell division). These somatic mutations are different from ‘germline’ mutations, which are inherited genetic alterations that are present in the sperm and egg that were used in making each of us.


Somatic vs Germline mutations. Source: AutismScienceFoundation

In the 246 samples analysed, the researchers found 315,914 somatic mutations in 18,758 genes. Yes, that is a lot, but what was very interesting was their discovery of somatic mutations in many of the PARK genes.

What are PARK genes?

There are a number (approx. 20) genes that are now recognised as conferring vulnerability to developing Parkinson’s disease. These genes are referred to as PARK genes. They include the gene that makes the protein Alpha synuclein ( SNCA ) and many others with interesting names (like PINK1 and LRRK2). Approximately 15% of cases of Parkinson’s are believed to occur because of a mutation in one (or more) of the  PARK genes. As a result there is a lot of research being conducted on the PARK genes.

Were all of PARK genes mutated in the Melanoma samples?

Somatic mutation in 14 of the 15 PARK genes (that the researchers analysed) were present in the melanoma samples. This means that after the skin cells turned into melanoma cancer cells, they acquired mutations in some of the PARK genes. Overall, 48% of the analysed samples had a mutation in at least 1 PARK gene, and 25% had mutations in multiple PARK genes (2–8 mutated genes). One PARK gene in particular, PARK 8, was more significantly present in the melanoma cells than the others. PARK8 is also known as Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 or LRRK2 (we have previously discussed Lrrk2 – click here to read that post). Three additional PARK genes (PARK2, PARK18, and PARK20) were also significantly present, but not as significant as Lrrk2.

So what does it all mean?

The researchers speculate in the discussion of their report about what the findings could mean, but it is interesting to note that many of the PARK genes are susceptible to acquiring mutations (particularly  Lrrk2). And this is important to consider when thinking about our development as individual human beings – even though you may not born with a particular mutation for Parkinson’s disease (you haven’t inherited it from our parents), somewhere along the developmental pathway (from egg fusing with sperm to full grown adult) you could acquire some of these mutations which would make you vulnerable to Parkinson’s disease.And here we should note that skin and brain share the same developmental source (called the ectoderm). A mutation in a PARK gene could occur during your development and you would never know.

We thought this was a very interesting study – certainly worthy of reporting here.