TUESDAY, May 15 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have identified gene variants that speed the progression of Parkinson's disease, and they say their findings could help identify patients who would benefit most from early treatment.
The researchers, from the University of California-Los Angeles, say their findings also may help efforts to develop new therapies.
Parkinson's disease is a progressive movement disorder marked by tremor, slowness and rigidity.
The researchers followed 233 patients for an average of about five years after they were diagnosed with the disorder. They focused on two variants of the SNCA gene, which is known to play a role in a person's risk for Parkinson's disease.
The study found that patients with the "Rep1 263bp" variant of the SNCA gene had a fourfold faster decline in their ability to move. The decline was even more rapid in patients with both the "Rep1 263bp" and "rs356165" variants of the gene.
"This is a relatively small study ... but the effects we're seeing are actually quite large," primary investigator Dr. Beate Ritz, vice chairwoman of the department of epidemiology at UCLA's School of Public Health, said in a university news release.
The study was published today in the journal PLoS One.
Doctors currently can't predict how rapidly Parkinson's disease patients will reach the point where they require a wheelchair or other mobility aids.
"But if our results are confirmed, these gene variants can now identify patients who are likely to have faster progression," study co-author Dr. Jeff Bronstein, professor of neurology at UCLA's School of Medicine, said in the news release.
The accelerated rate of disease progression in patients with these two gene variants means they may be able to provide researchers with faster results on tests of new drugs for Parkinson's, the researchers said.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about Parkinson's disease.
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