The Parkinson's Disease Unit at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., researches the underlying causes of Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders. The work is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health Morris K. Udall Centers of Excellence for Parkinson's Disease Research grant as well as by foundations, Mayo Clinic research committees and individual sponsors.

The unit is headed by Zbigniew K. Wszolek, M.D., and includes two other clinicians, Ryan J. Uitti, M.D., and Jay A. Van Gerpen, M.D.. Through the Udall Center grant, the clinical researchers collaborate with Rosa Rademakers, Ph.D., Owen A. Ross, Ph.D., and Dennis W. Dickson, M.D..

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects certain areas of the brain responsible for movement. It is characterized by rest tremor, slowness of movement (bradykinesia), muscle rigidity, gait and posture disturbance, and other related symptoms. According to some estimates, more than a million people suffer from Parkinson's disease in the United States alone.

Parkinsonism is also known as atypical parkinsonism or a Parkinson-plus syndrome. It is any condition that causes a combination of the movement abnormalities seen in Parkinson's disease and additional neurological signs. Signs of parkinsonism are not typically seen in Parkinson’s disease and result from the loss of dopamine-containing nerve cells (neurons) and additional neurons in other parts of the brain.

Parkinson's disease and parkinsonism are probably caused by multiple factors, both genetic (inherited) and environmental (acquired). By studying patients with parkinsonian disorders, Dr. Wszolek and his colleagues are gaining valuable insight into how genetic factors contribute to these disorders.