What causes Parkinson's?

People with Parkinson's don't have enough of the chemical dopamine because some of the nerve cells that make it have died.

We don't yet know exactly why people get Parkinson's, but researchers think it's a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause the dopamine-producing nerve cells to die.

Types of Parkinson's

Parkinsonism is a term that covers a range of conditions that have similar symptoms to Parkinson's. 

Find out more about types of Parkinson's
A complex network of neurons develops as stem cells (iPSCs) derived from the skin of a sporadic Parkinson’s patient are differentiated in vitro into dopaminergic neurons. By Hugo Fernandes, University of Oxford, runner-up in Picturing Parkinson's 2016

Loss of dopamine

The nerve cells that die and lead to the development of Parkinson's are responsible for producing a chemical known as dopamine.

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 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 appear.

Genes and Parkinson's

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

It is estimated that only a very small number of people may have an increased risk of Parkinson's linked to their genes.

Find out more about inherited Parkinson's.

Environmental causes of Parkinson's

There is some evidence that environmental factors (toxins) may cause dopamine-producing neurons to die, leading to the development of Parkinson's.

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.

Read our research news for more on the latest developments.

Miah and family

Does Parkinson's run in families?

A very small number of Parkinson's cases are hereditary and researchers are looking into why this happens.

More about inherited Parkinson's

What we know so far

We're still building a picture of why people get Parkinson's, but understanding the pieces of this complex puzzle will help us unlock better treatments and one day a cure.​

Find out about Parkinson's research
A group of gut bacteria

Gut bacteria and Parkinson's

Researchers, funded by Parkinson's UK, have identified 2 types of gut bacteria that could be beneficial to people with Parkinson's and they're not done yet.

Help fund breakthrough research