Some people with Parkinson's disease find that their motor symptoms, such as stiffness and tremors, worsen more quickly, and picking out these would help physicians target early treatment and offer support to the patients and their families. A small study carried out at the University of California Los Angeles has pinpointed some genetic changes that could help to identify these patients and perhaps create tailored treatments.
Previous studies have linked higher levels of a protein called α-synuclein with more serious Parkinson's disease symptoms, and, in a study published in PLoS One, UCLA researchers looked at symptoms and variations in the gene coding for α-synuclein in groups of newly diagnosed patients. These were followed for an average of around 5 years. The researchers found that two specific variations in the gene for α-synuclein could predict the worsening of the motor symptoms, and that the patients who had both variants declined the fastest.
"This is a relatively small study, with 233 patients, but the effects we're seeing are actually quite large," said Dr. Beate Ritz, vice chair of the department of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the study's primary investigator.
The results will need to be confirmed in more studies, but selecting patients who are likely to deteriorate fastest and recruiting them into clinical trials could help develop drugs more quickly as endpoints and outcomes can be seen earlier. The additional support and treatment provided in clinical trials could also help those people who need it the most.