Breaking new ground to find the causes of young-onset Parkinson's disease and related neurodegenerative disorders

By identifying early predictors and mechanisms that lead to young-onset Parkinson's disease and synucleinopathies, Dr. Savica's research team is revealing information that will lead directly to improved diagnosis and treatment.


The Young-Onset Parkinson's Disease and Synucleinopathies Lab at Mayo Clinic focuses on young-onset Parkinson's disease and related synucleinopathies, including later onset Parkinson's disease, Lewy body dementia, multiple system atrophy and other disorders.

Young onset Parkinson's disease is a group of conditions characterized by signs and symptoms of parkinsonism (for example, tremor, rigidity, falls and slowness of movements) that start earlier than the usual onset of Parkinson's disease, which generally occurs at around 65 to 70 years of age. Although there is currently no clear age cutoff to define young-onset Parkinson's disease, there are some crucial differences between patients with earlier onset and later onset Parkinson's disease that extend beyond the age of onset. Indeed, young-onset Parkinson's disease may exhibit differences in genetic and environmental risk and protective factors, response to therapy, and prognosis.

Synucleinopathies are commonly clinically diagnosed in late adulthood. However, pathological hallmarks of synucleinopathies begin years before a clinical diagnosis. The Young-Onset Parkinson's Disease and Synucleinopathies Lab is working toward identifying new early predicting factors that may be associated with synucleinopathies, such as sleep disorders, gait disorders, anemia, biomarkers and various environmental factors.

Understanding the association of these early risk factors can help specialists detect synucleinopathies much earlier in life, enabling them to provide the best possible care. Importantly, such information may have differing scientific and clinical meaning in patients with young-onset Parkinson's disease. Individuals with young-onset Parkinson's disease also have different societal requirements that need to be taken into consideration. Taking advantage of Mayo Clinic's multidisciplinary young-onset Parkinson's disease clinic, led by Dr. Savica, the Young-Onset Parkinson's Disease and Synucleinopathies Lab strives to translate the research findings into improved clinical care at Mayo Clinic and for the population at large.

The Young-Onset Parkinson's Disease and Synucleinopathies Lab is led by Rodolfo Savica, M.D., Ph.D., with the involvement of a number of collaborators, including Fabrice Lucien-Matteoni, Ph.D.; Brent A. Bauer, M.D.; Owen A. Ross, Ph.D.; and Michelle M. Mielke, Ph.D. This long-standing collaboration has created a research team that works to understand the cause, pathogenesis and prevention of young-onset Parkinson's disease and neurodegenerative disorders caused by synucleinopathies, and the abnormal accumulation of aggregates of alpha-synuclein protein in neurons, nerve fibers or glial cells. The neurology specialists and research staff strive to directly implement the findings of their research to provide the most accurate diagnosis and the best possible individualized care.

About Dr. Savica

Dr. Savica is a professor of neurology and epidemiology in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. His principal research interests include young onset Parkinson's disease, Parkinson's disease and neurodegenerative diseases — in particular, dementias and dementia with Lewy bodies. His work focuses largely on the epidemiologic and genetic pre-motor risk factors and the clinical features of Parkinson's disease. Dr. Savica's interests include predicting clinical phenotypes of the different clinical types of alpha-synucleinopathy.