Mayo Clinic researchers report finding several gene variations within axon guidance pathway genes that collectively predicted people at high risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease.
The axon guidance pathway consists of an array of chemical signals that wires the brain during fetal development and maintains and repairs brain wiring throughout life. Previously, the investigators reported similar findings for Parkinson’s disease.
The scientists analyzed publicly available datasets of whole-genome variations in people with ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and those who did not have neurological disorders. They were able to extend their findings to ALS and in fact observed greater effects.
The team reports that within the axon guidance pathway genes DNA fingerprints predicted people whose risk for ALS, was 2,000 times greater than the average risk. The investigators also say that they identified several gene variations that collectively predicted people with nearly 400 times greater risk for Parkinson’s disease than the average risk.
The researchers noted that while up to 50% of the axon guidance pathway genes that predict ALS or Parkinson’s disease are common, there are also gene variations that are specific to each disease.
“The size of the effects that were observed and their statistical significance are unprecedented in the study of brain aging disorders,” according to Timothy Lesnick, Mayo Clinic biostatistician. “I attribute our success to the genomic pathways approach we developed.”
The study is published online in PLoS ONE.