Researchers Link Gene that Causes Parkinson's Disease to Cancer

Timothy A. Chan

Timothy A. Chan

A multidisciplinary team of Memorial Sloan Kettering investigators has shown for the first time that the gene that causes the inherited form of Parkinson’s disease also plays a role in many types of cancer, including colon and lung cancers and glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer. The study, published in the December issue of Nature Genetics, was led by physician-scientist Timothy A. Chan, a radiation oncologist and member of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program and the Brain Tumor Center. [PubMed Abstract]

The gene, called PARK2, encodes a protein that acts as a tumor suppressor. Tumor suppressors prevent the formation of cancerous cells. When these suppressors are mutated and unable to function, tumors can develop. In familial (inherited) Parkinson’s disease, mutation of PARK2 leads to inappropriate activation of the cell-division cycle in neurons. But because neurons are cells that are unable to divide, the cells die, leading to Parkinson’s disease. When PARK2 is mutated in cell types that can divide, levels of a protein called cyclin E rise and cause the cells to multiply out of control, sometimes leading to cancer.

The researchers found the mutation when studying an area of chromosome 6 that was known to play a role in many cancer types. “We used microarrays to study cells from several different tumor types,” Dr. Chan explained. “When we mapped and sequenced the most likely candidate gene in the area, we were surprised to find that it was PARK2, which was already known for its role in Parkinson’s. Research is beginning to show that similar genetic mutations can have very different effects, depending on the type of cell in which they occur.”

Future research will focus on developing mouse models to study the mutation in cancer progression and in trying to determine additional genetic mutations that PARK2-deficient tumors need to develop into cancer. Investigators are also looking at whether people with the inherited forms of Parkinson’s disease have a higher cancer risk.


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I have been battling cancer since 2009, mostly lung cancer, now I thinking showing signs of Parkinson's and a friend of ours just got through with cancer treatment and now he is showing signs of Parkinson's, strange isn't it.

Dear Linda, we’re sorry to hear about your health problems. Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you.

My husband was diagnosed in about 2008 & treated for Parkinson's for about 8 years by a highly trained & regarded Neurologist at UCI. He had relatively mild symptoms and was able to surf, golf, snorkel, & drive and sailed through Hoag Hospital's special exercise programs to help slow Parkinson's Disease progression.
In late 2015 he started having odd symptoms in the non-parkinson's affected side of his body. Left ankle & foot seemed to not be supportive. Then a hugely more pronounced tremor. You almost had to hold down his arm forcibly to stop it. Neuro/Parkinson's specialist prescribed trace B vitamins and more Parkinson's drugs and lots of Xanax. But did no TESTS or SCANS of any kind. My husband had been seeing his Dr once or twice a year. And instead saw him on many occasions, as we were to take a long trip to Maui. And his new symptoms bothered him. UCI Dr put it all on Parkinson's. Long story Short. After the flight to Maui. His behavior changed, he could not sleep, he could not be kept cool enough. and he started not being able to walk at times. Memory was short. His left arm didn't always move. To ER and within less than 15 mins, they suspected a Brain Tumor! We flew him to Cedars Sinai to a specialist. He died in just 3 MONTHS... despite treatment & surgery at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles & Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. All through treatment the Oncologists said......."We have NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE!" Parkinson's & Glioblastom!!! They seemed at a loss. Last day of radiation treatment was a "Killer" I thing Cedars Brain tumor department has tissue. I'm writing this in case it can help someone else.
Carey Vick

Dear Carey, we are very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story.

My Mother from India who was very healthy - not even a cold anytime - got PD in 1997. by 2004 she changed from a beautiful lady to an aging lady who couldn't walk w/out Syndopa or Sinemet. in 2008 we did a physical on her and it was status quo. may be more sleepy and some mild falls. in 2010 she was diagnosed with last stage lung cancer.. she died exactly in 6 months. I still haven't come to terms with it.

Dear Jasmine, we are very sorry for your loss. Best wishes to you.