Looking for the causes of Parkinson's
Although the causes of certain types of
parkinsonism have been identified, the cause of Parkinson's
itself remains unknown.
As yet there is no cure and the causes of Parkinson's are still unknown, so funding research is crucial.
Dr Shirley Ratcliffe, person with Parkinson's
Parkinson's occurs due to a loss of nerve cells in the brain.
The symptoms of Parkinson's emerge when around 70% of cells have
It is not known why these nerve cells die.
We fund research exploring the causes of
Parkinson's. We need to know how and why certain nerve cells in
the brain in Parkinson's die in order to find a cure.
The loss of dopamine in Parkinson's
The nerve cells that die and lead to the development of
Parkinson's are responsible for producing a chemical known as
Dopamine allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain
that co-ordinate movement.
With the loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells, these parts of
the brain are unable to work normally, causing the symptoms of
Parkinson's to appear.
The level of dopamine then continues to fall slowly over many
years, causing symptoms to further develop and new symptoms to
It is generally thought that people develop Parkinson's due to a
combination of genes that increase its possibility and
Genes and Parkinson's
It is extremely rare for people to pass on Parkinson's to their
It is estimated that Parkinson's may have a
genetic cause for 5 in every 100 people with the condition.
In the rare examples where Parkinson's does seem to be passed on
from one generation to the next, genetic abnormalities appear to be
Even when an abnormal gene is present the chances of going on to
develop Parkinson's are very low.
Researchers are interested in the role of genes which cause
inherited Parkinson's as it may help them understand the process of
nerve cell death.
Looking for genetic causes of Parkinson's
DJ-1 is one of several genes known to be linked to some
inherited forms of Parkinson's. Research into how mutations in this
gene affect the nerve cells in Parkinson's is ongoing.
Changes or mutations in the parkin gene are also linked to some
forms of early onset Parkinson's (when people are diagnosed under
the age of 40).
But it is not known how these changes in parkin lead to the
death of nerve cells in Parkinson's.
You can read more on genetic research in our Inherited Parkinson's and genetic testing
Environmental causes of Parkinson's
There is some evidence that environmental factors (toxins) may
cause dopamine-producing neurons to die, leading to the development
The term environment refers to the world around you and the
pathogens (viruses and bacteria), toxic chemicals and heavy metals
that occupy it.
In particular, there has been a great deal of speculation about
the link between the use of herbicides and pesticides and the
development of Parkinson's.
A case often quoted is that of drug users mistakenly taking a
substance similar to a pesticide instead of heroin.
Within weeks or months, many of them developed irreversible
There are many other examples of different environmental factors
leading to the development of Parkinson's, but as yet the evidence
Take a look at our research news for
more on the latest developments.
Also in this section
Research into the causes of Parkinson's
As the UK's Parkinson's support and research charity we're
leading the work to find a cure. Find out more about our plan to cure Parkinson's.