Does Parkinson's run in families?
If you or one of your relatives has Parkinson’s, you may want to know if the condition 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.
Most people have what is called ‘idiopathic Parkinson’s’, meaning that there is no known cause and no clear genetic cause. Research is being carried out on the role of genes in idiopathic Parkinson’s, and whether there are any genes that increase your risk of developing the condition but do not have a major effect on your family’s risk of developing it.
It is estimated that only a very small number of people may have an increased risk of Parkinson's linked to their genes. So, it's very rare for people to pass on Parkinson's to their children.
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. We asked him to give a simple explanation of whether Parkinson's runs in families.
If I have Parkinson's, will my children develop it?
It is rare for people to pass Parkinson’s on to their children. However, there are cases where it does seem that Parkinson’s has been passed from one generation to the next. Where this happens there are specific genetic factors that appear to play a part, such as changes in the alpha-synuclein gene.
We still don’t know exactly what causes Parkinson’s. In addition to specific genetic factors that cause a condition, there are also genetic risk factors that do not mean you will definitely get the condition, but may slightly increase your risk of developing it. Just as people who have inherited high cholesterol or blood pressure are at risk of heart problems, our environment and lifestyle may play a big part in deciding who actually goes on to develop certain conditions.
Can I have my genes tested to find out if I’m at higher risk?
In some cases it’s possible for family members of people with Parkinson’s to have a predictive test to see if they carry a Parkinson’s genetic risk factor. This will usually happen with support and counselling from the local NHS medical genetics service.
Some private companies offer genetic testing, but the information provided is often limited and the companies may not provide counselling or advice.
If you have already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, genetic testing can help you and your doctor to understand why the condition has happened. At the moment, having a positive genetic test result will not change your treatment, but this might change in the future.
Having a genetic test may be particularly informative if you have a strong family history of Parkinson’s or if you have early-onset Parkinson’s (before the age of 40). If your genetic test for Parkinson’s is positive, you and your family will be offered detailed genetic counselling and advice.
If you are worried about the familial risk of developing Parkinson’s in your family, speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse. They may refer you for testing with a doctor or counsellor who specialises in genetic medicine or neurogenetics.
Why is there so much interest in Parkinson’s genes?
The number of people affected by genetic forms of Parkinson’s is very low. But understanding the role genes play in a person’s condition might shed light on what causes Parkinson’s and potential new treatments.
There are many researchers in the UK who are studying the genetics of Parkinson’s, including members of our Research Support Network. They may be looking for people with Parkinson’s to take part in their studies.
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.
Advice and support given to parents about the risks of their child developing conditions with a genetic cause.
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.
The study of the role of genes in the development and function of the nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
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Last updated January 2018. We review all our information within 3 years. 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].