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Knowing Me, Knowing You: Can a Knowledge of Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease Prove Useful in Understanding the Pathogenesis of Parkinson's Disease?


Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD) are the two most common neurodegenerative disorders. Why some individuals develop one disease rather than the other is not clear. Association studies with a case-control design are the time-honored approach to identifying risk factors. Extensive association studies have been carried out in both diseases creating a large knowledge database, however, reproducible risk factors remain rare. This general lack of knowledge of pathogenesis prevents us from reducing the worldwide burden of these diseases. Case-control studies are reductionist paradigms that assume, for maximum power, that the two populations being compared are exclusive and homogenous. The common occurrence of incidental AD and PD-type pathology combined with ‘intermediate phenotypes’ such as dementia with Lewy bodies suggest that aging itself, AD, and PD are part of a complex continuum characterized by variable amounts of amyloid-β, tau, and α-synuclein pathology. This heterogeneity may be a contributor to the lack of reproducibility in association studies to date. Here, we speculate on alternative experimental approaches to the case-control paradigm and consider how the association-study literature for AD and PD might be re-interpreted in terms of a disease spectrum.