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In this Commentary, I describe the events that led from an NINDS-sponsored Workshop on Parkinson Disease Research in 1995, where I was asked to speak about the genetics of Parkinson disease, to the identification a mere two years later of a mutation in alpha-synuclein as the cause of autosomal dominant Parkinson disease in the Contursi kindred. I review the steps we took to first map and then find the mutation in the alpha-synuclein locus and describe the obstacles and the role of serendipity in facilitating the work. Although alpha-synuclein mutations are a rare cause of hereditary PD, the importance of this finding goes far beyond the rare families with hereditary disease because it pinpointed alpha-synuclein as a key contributor to the far more common sporadic form of Parkinson disease. This work confirms William Harvey's observation from 350 years ago that studying rarer forms of a disease is an excellent way to understand the more common forms of that disease. The identification of synuclein's role in hereditary Parkinson disease has opened new avenues of research into the pathogenesis and potential treatments of the common form of Parkinson disease that affects many millions of Americans and tens of millions of human beings worldwide.

Citation

Robert L Nussbaum. The Identification of Alpha-Synuclein as the First Parkinson Disease Gene. Journal of Parkinson's disease. 2017;7(s1):S45-S51

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PMID: 28282812

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