If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) you might ask: “How did I get it? Did I inherit it? Can my kids inherit it?” For the longest time, scientists did not believe that you could inherit PD, but new studies of PD genetics are forcing a shift to a more nuanced position.
The consensus position appears to be that for most people with PD, there is a genetic vulnerability to acquiring the disease. When that genetic vulnerability is combined with exposure to some environmental trigger, the chances for acquiring the disease increase substantially. The genetic contribution is stronger in cases of early-onset PD.
Studies show that first-degree relatives of people with PD are twice as likely to develop PD than relatives of people without the disease. Male relatives, in particular, seem to have twice the risk as female relatives. While some who these families must have been exposed to some environmental hazard or pathogen, many other scientists claim that these facts point to a genetic contribution to PD.
Indeed, the search for genetic mutations that increase risk for the disease has turned up some significant findings. At present, mutations in at least 5 genes have been firmly associated with Parkinsonism: (a) α-synuclein [SNCA or PARK1], (b) parkin [PRKN or PARK2], (c) DJ-1 [DJ1 or PARK7], (d) PTEN-induced putative kinase I [PINK1 or PARK6], and (e) leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 or dardarin [LRRK2 or PARK8].
If you or someone in your family has one of these genetic mutations, it does NOT mean that you are going to get PD. It simply means that you're at risk of getting PD -- IF you are exposed to a triggering event. A triggering event can be exposure to a toxic chemical, a head injury or perhaps a pathogen that you breathe in.
If someone in your family, a blood relative, has PD OR if you undergo prolonged exposed to a toxic chemical at your workplace or through your drinking water or through some other route, then you might consider speaking to your doctor about your chances of getting PD. Please note however that experiencing anyone of the aforementioned risk factors does not mean you will get PD. We are merely talking statistical odds here: some events increase the odds. The greater the number of risk-related events you experience the greater the odds of you getting PD; but again even if the odds are relatively high you may still not get PD. There is so much we do not know about PD so no statements should be taken as final or definitive and there are exceptions to every rule. It is always best to speak to your doctor about any concerns you have around potential PD symptoms.
Source: Stewart A Factor, DO and William J Weiner, MD. Parkinson’s Disease: Diagnosis and Clinical Management Second Edition, 2008 Demos Medical Publishing
Stewart A Factor, DO and William J Weiner, MD. Parkinson’s Disease: Diagnosis and Clinical Management Second Edition, 2008 Demos Medical Publishing