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Parkinson's, Dementia & Mental Health

New Report Confirms Chemical Exposure Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

National Institutes of Health study finds trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PERC) are culprits

Nov. 14, 2011 - A research report being published today confirms previous evidence that occupational exposure to certain chemical solvents increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease. The disease, for example, was nine times more common in a twin exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PERC) than one who was not. It most often strikes senior citizens.

Researchers analyzed the occupational histories of twins in which one of the pair developed the neurodegenerative disorder, and assessed that twin's likelihood of exposure to six chemicals previously linked to Parkinson's.

Of the six chemicals investigated, researchers concluded that two common chemical solvents, trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PERC), are significantly linked to development of this disease.

This study, supported in part by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the National Institutes of Health, appears in the Nov. 14, 2011 issue of Annals of Neurology.


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More archived news reports about Parkinson's disease below news story.

Read the latest news on Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health


Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder caused by the loss of brain cells that produce a molecule called dopamine. The primary symptoms of Parkinson's are tremor, stiffness, slowed movement and impaired balance, and as these symptoms progress, patients may also develop difficulty walking, speaking or completing other activities of daily living.

Genes play a role in Parkinson’s disease, but fewer than 10 percent of cases are due to a single gene mutation, and not all people with these mutations develop Parkinson’s, suggesting that environmental factors also contribute to the likelihood of developing the disease.

The researchers, led by Samuel Goldman, M.D., M.P.H. and Caroline Tanner, M.D., Ph.D. at the Parkinson's Institute in Sunnyvale, Calif., collected the histories of 99 pairs of twins in which one of the pair developed Parkinson’s and the other twin did not.

Since twins are so genetically similar, twin studies are especially useful in identifying environmental influences in disease. The twins were identified through the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council World War II Veteran Twins Registry.

Of the 99 pairs, half were genetically identical twins, and half were fraternal twins.

The study team assessed the twins' lifetime work and hobby activities, specifically inquiring about occupational tasks such as electrical work, industrial machinery repair, and dry cleaning, which would potentially expose people to chemicals previously linked to Parkinson's. The researchers also collected information on head injuries, which are suspected to increase Parkinson’s risk, and smoking history, which is reported to decrease Parkinson’s risk.

Expert evaluators, unaware of which study subjects had Parkinson's, reviewed this information and calculated lifelong exposure to six chemicals: TCE, PERC, carbon tetrachloride, n-hexane, xylene and toluene. Of these, TCE and PERC posed a notable risk for developing Parkinson's.

"The potential importance is great, since both solvents persist in the environment and are commonly used," said Dr. Goldman,

"Parkinson's was sixfold more common in twins exposed to TCE, and ninefold more common in twins exposed to TCE or PERC." There was also a trend toward a tenfold increase in Parkinson’s disease in twins exposed to PERC alone.

In this study researchers looked only at occupational chemical exposure, and the association with job categories tended toward significance only for the industrial machinery repairer and industrial worker categories.

However, the chemicals evaluated here are found outside industrial settings as well. PERC is the leading chemical used in garment dry cleaning. TCE is the most frequently reported organic groundwater contaminant, was once used as general anesthetic and coffee decaffeinating agent, and is still used widely as a metal degreasing agent.

TCE has also been linked to Parkinson's by other research groups. Researchers at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and the Kangwon National University in South Korea have reported an association between TCE and Parkinson’s in highly-exposed industrial workers, and have also demonstrated that TCE causes neurodegeneration in animal models.

The analysis described in this report expands on preliminary findings presented at the 2010 American Academy of Neurology meeting. The new paper quantifies the individuals' exposures to the chemicals in terms of successive years and cumulative exposure over their lifetime.

About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson's disease is a disorder that affects nerve cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain that controls muscle movement. In Parkinson's, neurons that make a chemical called dopamine die or do not work properly. Dopamine normally sends signals that help coordinate your movements. No one knows what damages these cells. Symptoms of Parkinson's disease may include

   ● Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face

   ● Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk

   ● Slowness of movement

   ● Poor balance and coordination

As symptoms get worse, people with the disease may have trouble walking, talking or doing simple tasks. They may also have problems such as depression, sleep problems or trouble chewing, swallowing or speaking.

Parkinson's usually begins around age 60, but it can start earlier.

It is more common in men than in women. There is no cure for Parkinson's disease. A variety of medicines sometimes help symptoms dramatically.

 >> Parkinson's Disease (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

 >> Parkinson's Disease-Interactive Turotial (Patient Education Institute)

Dr. Tanner notes that while the association between chemical exposure and Parkinson's is strong, one limitation of the research is the small number of individuals studied. "It will be important to replicate these results in additional populations with well-characterized exposure histories,” she commented.

Wendy Galpern, M.D., Ph.D., program director at NINDS, agreed that replication of these results is necessary. "This epidemiologic study is a noteworthy addition to our growing understanding of the association between environmental exposures and Parkinson's disease," Dr. Galpern said.

"The identification of specific chemicals linked to this neurodegenerative disorder may have implications for disease prevention and an improved understanding of how Parkinson's develops."

The research was supported by NINDS/NIH, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, New York, Parkinson's Unity Walk, Kingston, N.J., The Valley Foundation, Los Gatos, Calif., and James and Sharron Clark.

For more information about Parkinson's Disease, visit the Parkinson's Disease fact sheet on the NINDS website:

NINDS is the nation's leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The NINDS mission is to reduce the burden of neurological disease — a burden borne by every age group, by every segment of society, by people all over the world.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

Links to Archived News Reports About Parkinson's Disease


Seniors, Other Parkinson Patients Gain from Deep Brain Stimulation but Take Serious Risk

Few previous randomized trials comparing treatments, most excluded senior citizens - watch video - Jan. 7, 2009

Physical Activity Slows the Progress of Parkinson’s in Study

U. of Michigan programs promote strengthening and conditioning of patients

Aug. 11, 2008

Parkinson's Community Steps Out to Find a Cure at the 14th Annual Parkinson's Unity Walk

Second most common chronic neurological disorder in senior citizens after Alzheimer's

April 23, 2008

Parkinson’s Patients Play Nintendo to Test Occupational Therapy

Foul ball and improved walking ability brings a cheer for Ingrid Bell

April 7, 2008

Researchers Claim Omega-3 Fatty Acids Protect Brain from Parkinson's

Protection may come from DHA omega-3 eating up dangerous omega-6 fatty acid in brain

Nov. 26, 2007

PET Scans Show Gene Therapy Normalizes Brain Function in Parkinson’s

Study focuses on power of modern brain scans to show that gene therapy altered brain activity in a favorable way

Nov. 20, 2007

It's How Amyloid Fiber is Built that May Set Stage for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

Study of bacteria’s role in forming fibers leads to new theory

July 13, 2007

Exelon Patch is First Approved by FDA to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

Patch also approved to treat Parkinson's disease dementia

July 9, 2007

New Treatment in Battle Against Parkinson’s May Come from Discovery

New protein appears to protect and rescue damaged dopamine neurons

July 5, 2007

Parkinson’s Disease Risks Lower with High Levels of Urate in Blood

Large Harvard study finds potent antioxidant works against oxidative stress

June 22, 2007

Parkinson’s Disease Treatment with Gene Therapy Shows Promise

First such clinical trial may lead to effective management of disease that hits mostly senior citizens

June 22, 2007

Engineers Say They Now Know How Brain Pacemakers Help Parkinson’s Patients

Deep brain stimulation erases diseased messages for thousands

May 31, 2007

Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Diabetes, Mad Cow Similar at Molecular Level

Protein analysis may offer new diagnoses and treatment options

April 30, 2007

Parkinson's Treatment Drugs Being Withdrawn, Says FDA

Permax (pergolide) and two generic versions may damage heart valves

March 29, 2007

Major Parkinson's Trial Begins Testing Energy Booster's Ability to Slow the Disease

Creatine to be tested in 52 sites with 1,720 participants

March 22, 2007

Australians Claim Low-Cost Gene Screening for Parkinson's Disease

Seeks people for gene-sequencing trial, Australia-wide gene-mapping study

Feb. 23, 2007

Parkinson's Linked to Low LDL Cholesterol that is Good for Heart

People with Parkinson's have lower rate of heart attack and stroke

December 20, 2006

Cell Activities that Protect against Alzheimer's Protein Buildup Found

Findings may lead to new therapies for Neurodegenerative Diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

August 11, 2006

Researchers find 'Probable Cause' for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, other Brain Disorders

June 28, 2006

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