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Environmental roots to parkinsonism.

Environmental roots to parkinsonism

New support for the theory that Parkinson's disease is caused by environmental factors has come from six Canadian families. Each family has several members who developed the disorder within less than five years of one another, despite large are differences, say Donald B. Calne of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and his colleagues.

The appearance of the neurological disorder among only a portion of the parents and their children undermines a purely genetic explanation, say the researchers.

"Whatever the environmental factors were, they must have been transient,' says Calne. "There may be a range of environmental toxins stimulating Parkinson's disease, including some in the diet, but at the moment this is very speculative.' In one family, for instance, the only healthy member was also the only one who had abstained from a rigorous "health food' diet that included large quantities of sunflower seeds. Whether that diet contained toxic elements is unclear, says Calne.

Parkinson's disease usually occurs among people over 40 years of age and is marked by tremors, muscle rigidity and weakness and a shuffling gait.

In the Canadian families, an average of only 4.6 years separated the onset of symptoms in different generations, while the average age difference between children and parents who contracted the disorder was 25 years. Two of the families contained identical twins, and only one member of each pair developed Parkinson's disease, report Calne and his coworkers in the August CANADIAN JOURNAL OF NEUROLOGICAL SCIENCES.

The children, whose symptoms developed by age 40, had generally lived apart from their parents for two or more decades. Any common environmental causes must have occurred before they left home, conclude the researchers. This inference is in line with a previous hypothesis that environmental hazards first cause "clinically silent damage' to the brain early in life, followed by normal cell loss with aging that triggers Parkinson's disease (SN: 10/5/85, p.212).

Their data dovetail with a report that an amino acid found in the seeds of the false sago palm produces parkinsonism in monkeys and may have caused an increases in neurological diseases on two west Pacific islands (SN: 8/8/87, p.94).
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Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 22, 1987
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