Image showing how Parkinson's disease translates to the brain and body

The Mayo Clinic Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Disease Research is an integrated, multidisciplinary research program focused on the genetics and molecular biology of Parkinson's disease and parkinsonism. The center is led by Dennis W. Dickson, M.D., in the Department of Neuroscience at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive nervous system disease that causes debilitating movement symptoms. It affects approximately 1 in 50 individuals older than 65, making it the second-most prevalent neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer's disease. Researchers in the Udall Center bring together the disciplines of neurology, neurogenetics and neuropathology to uncover the genetic causes of Parkinson's disease, with the hope that better understanding will lead to new treatments for Parkinson's and related disorders.

Together, Mayo physicians and researchers have discovered a number of genes that cause parkinsonian disorders. For example, Mayo researchers:

  • Found the gene leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) to be the most common genetic cause of late-onset, autosomal dominant Parkinson's disease
  • Contributed to the discovery of mutations in the alpha-synuclein gene (SNCA) that cause familial Parkinson's and identified genetic variants that are risk factors for the more sporadic late-onset disease
  • Identified a variant in a gene (VPS35) that is the latest gene identified to cause Parkinson's disease
  • Discovered mutations in a gene (DCTN1) that produce a very severe form of parkinsonism associated with breathing difficulties and severe depression

To date, researchers working at Mayo's Udall Center have identified 10 genes linked to Parkinson's disease or related neurodegenerative disorders, including dementia.

Current Udall Center projects include:

  • Using whole-genome sequencing approaches in families to identify novel genes for parkinsonian disorders related to tau and alpha-synuclein pathology
  • Identifying common genetic factors that contribute to tau and alpha-synuclein pathology
  • Exploring the intriguing interaction between tau and alpha-synuclein in the origins of parkinsonian disorders

Clinical collaboration

The Udall Center draws upon the strengths of Mayo Clinic's clinical movement disorders section, which supports:

  • Longitudinal studies of Parkinson's disease and a focus on the clinical genetics of familial parkinsonism.
  • A large brain bank of parkinsonian disorders. The collection includes more than 2,000 brains from individuals with Parkinson's disease, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy. DNA from these brains has been invaluable in discovering genes that cause or are risk factors for Parkinsonian disorders.
  • A strong commitment to Parkinson's disease research and education.

Institutional commitment

Mayo Clinic supports the Udall Center and Parkinson's research in a number of ways, including:

  • Faculty research funds
  • Pilot research grants
  • The Mayo Graduate School Neurobiology of Disease Ph.D. program, which has a strong emphasis on neurodegenerative disorders
  • Sponsorship of movement disorder fellowships
  • A sponsored seminar series
  • Support for faculty travel to promote intrainstitutional collaborations

Although the main components of the Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Disease Research are based in Jacksonville, Fla, the center also utilizes shared resources based in Rochester, Minn. and Scottsdale, Ariz., particularly the Department of Neurology and Division of Biomedical Statistics and Informatics.

Mayo Clinic's Udall Center has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1999, shortly after the Morris K. Udall Parkinson's Disease Research Act was signed into law. With a proven track record of discovery, collaboration and innovation, Parkinson's disease researchers at Mayo Clinic are gradually uncovering secrets essential to developing new, effective treatments for this devastating disease.