A new study published in the Annals of Neurology suggests that redheads may carry a gene variant that increases the risk of both Parkinson's disease (PD) and melanoma. Researchers have long known that having either PD or melanoma heightens the chances of developing the other condition, but it's been unclear exactly why. Results from the MJFF funded study, led by Xiqun Chen, MD, PhD, of the Massachusetts General Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease, indicate that the MC1R gene variant, which is responsible for red hair and fair skin, may be to blame.
This gene dictates hair and skin coloring, that, when lighter, provides less protection from the sun and contributes to melanoma risk. The same gene also may impact the production of dopamine, the brain signaling chemical that's lost in PD. In red-haired mice that have the MC1R gene variant, brain dopamine is decreased and dopamine brain cells are more sensitive to potentially damaging substances.
This data supports the need for further study not only into the mechanisms of how this gene variant could contribute to Parkinson's, but also how its effects might be targeted in novel ways to treat the disease. As researchers delve into the connection between melanoma and Parkinson's, they gather more knowledge of the underlying disease and potentially get closer to effective targeted treatments. MJFF-funded scientists have been investigating the PD and melanoma association since 2011: one team is determining whether alpha-synuclein (the protein that clumps in the brains of people with PD) is the common link and another is evaluating if melanoma is increased in people with certain genetic mutations associated with PD.
One final note: While having red hair and/or Parkinson's increase the risk of melanoma, it doesn't guarantee it. Knowing the correlation between the two is important, and you can proactively take steps to limit your melanoma risk. Read more about how to prevent and detect melanoma.
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