Does Parkinson's run in families?

If you or one of your relatives has Parkinson’s, you may want to know if the condition is hereditary and can be passed down through families.

This information answers your questions about whether Parkinson’s can be inherited, and if there is any way to test for it.

Parkinson's can be hereditary, but it is very rare for it to run in families. 

Only a small number of cases have been reported as hereditary. The vast majority of people with Parkinson's have what is called 'idiopathic Parkinson's'. This means there is no known cause for it to develop. 

It is very rare for Parkinson's to be genetic. There is a small minority of people that can develop Parkinson's and pass it down to their children via their genes. 

Parkinson’s caused by genetic factors is extremely rare, but does happen sometimes:

  • Some people with Parkinson’s carry a very rare change in a gene that causes the condition directly. People diagnosed with Parkinson's at a younger age are more likely to have a genetic link. Changes have been identified in genes including alpha synuclein, parkin, PINK1, DJ-1, ATP13A2, PLA2G6, FBXO7 and VPS35, and often cause symptoms to develop at a young age.
  • A change in the LRRK2 gene known as G2019S is probably the most common genetic variant linked to Parkinson’s. In the UK, around one in 100 people with Parkinson’s carry it. It’s more common in North African and Jewish populations. People who carry this variant may develop the condition later in life and have around a 70% chance of being diagnosed by the age of 80.
  • As well as single genetic changes that directly cause the condition, we now know that there are also changes that increase risk. The most common of these is having a variant in the GBA gene. These changes are more common but their effects are more subtle. Carrying one of them means you are more likely to develop Parkinson’s but often only very slightly.

We all have two copies of 23,000 genes. Together, these genes (our ‘genome’) act as a blueprint that makes us who we are. Subtle variations make every person’s genome unique, and make us all different. We get half our genes from our mother and half from our father.

Sometimes, a gene has a difference (a ‘variant’ or ‘mutation’) that means the protein it produces doesn’t work as well as it should. This can increase someone’s risk of getting a particular illness.

It’s very rare for a health condition to be caused by a change in a single gene. Like most of our characteristics, our health is generally the result of a mixture of different genes with other factors such as diet and how physically active we are.

It’s very rare for people to pass Parkinson’s on to their children.

Even if your Parkinson’s is in part caused by the genetic factors mentioned above, it’s far from certain that you would pass the relevant genes on to your children.

However, there are some cases where it does seem that Parkinson’s has been genetically passed or does look like it could be hereditary from one generation to the next.

Alpha-synuclein gene
The alpha-synuclein gene provides instructions for making a small protein called alpha-synuclein. This protein is found throughout the body, including in the brain. Research suggests that changes in this gene may play a role in the development of Parkinson’s.

We all carry two copies of most genes. A ‘carrier’ (or genetic carrier) is a person who has inherited a change in one copy of the gene, but does not have the symptoms of the genetic disease related to this change.

Genetic counselling
Advice and support given to parents about the risks of their child developing conditions with a genetic cause.

Genetic medicine
The branch of medicine that involves the diagnosis and management of hereditary disorders.

Genetic risk factor
A risk factor is anything that can increase your chance of developing a condition. A genetic risk factor comes from your genes.

Means a condition could develop based on your immediate family's health.

The study of the role of genes in the development and function of the nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

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Does Parkinson's run in families? (PDF, 145KB)

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Getting to grips with genetics

Our research team have written a blog explaining genetics and Parkinson's and what we know so far.

Straight from the expert

Dr Patrick Lewis researches inherited Parkinson's at the University of Reading.

In this video, we asked him to give a simple explanation of whether Parkinson's runs in families.

I have Parkinson's - like my mum and nan before me

Donna was told she had Parkinson’s in her early forties – the third woman in three generations of her family to receive the diagnosis. 

"I was convinced everyone had it wrong and that Parkinson’s was just an easy diagnosis to label me with because of my mum and my nan."

Last updated March 2019. If you'd like to find out more about how we put our information together, including references and the sources of evidence we use, please contact us at [email protected]