According to Reuters, researchers have found a gene that may explain why coffee may lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease for some people. About a quarter of the population carries this version of the gene, and only those people are likely to be helped by an experimental class of drugs designed to mimic some of coffee’s benefits, Haydeh Payami of the New York State Department of Health told the World Parkinson Congress in Glasgow, Scotland on Sept. 29.
Payami’s team studied 4,000 people, half with Parkinson’s, using an Illumina “gene chip” to look at the entire genetic map of each volunteer, a technique called a genome wide association study. They identified a gene called GRIN2A that appeared to protect people who drank coffee from developing Parkinson’s. GRIN2A is linked to glutamate, a compound that is suspected of killing the brain cells that die off in Parkinson’s patients. Glutamate can be affected by another compound called adenosine, and coffee interferes with this process.
Drugs called adenosine A2A receptor antagonists have been tested against Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases. Payami said her team’s genetic findings may help explain the disappointing results of those trials so far. “If this gene really is interacting with coffee to boost neuroprotection, it should work in these clinical trials,” she said.
“This work shows the potential of using genetic and epidemiological approaches to identify new risk factors for Parkinson’s disease,” said Margaret Sutherland of the NINDS, one of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.