Parkinsons disease (PD) is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disease and affects more than one million elderly Americans. As the population ages, the burden of PD is expected to increase. Although there are effective measures to control the symptoms of PD, patients eventually develop severe physical and mental disabilities and often die of complications.
My research aims to ascertain the environmental and genetic causes of PD and to characterize high-risk populations through research on pre-motor symptoms and biomarkers. Genes and environmental factors, alone or in combination, contribute to PD development. Over years, our research has contributed to a better understanding of the role of environmental factors in Parkinsons etiology, for example, on smoking, coffee drinking, infections, and use of certain medications. In the past year, we investigated some other potential risk factors for PD. Using data from the Parkinsons Genes and Environmental Studies, we prospectively investigated the association between alcohol drinking and future PD risk. We found that while moderate beer drinking was associated a lower risk for PD, liquor drinking was associated with a higher risk (PLoS One, 2013). Using data from the Swedish Patient Registry, we found that recent head injury was not related to a higher risk of PD (Mov Disord 2013). In the past, we have reported that higher plasma urate was associated with a lower risk of PD;we examined last year whether this association could be attributed to known genetic variants that are associated with plasma urate. We did not find a link between these genetic variants and PD (Transl Neurodegener, 2013). In addition, we are also part of a larger consortium to search for genetic causes of PD (e.g. Hum Mol Genet, 2012, 2013;PLoS Med 2013). Another important area of my research is the epidemiology of PD pre-motor symptoms. Clinicians and scientists have known for years that in addition to the characteristic motor signs, PD patients suffer from non-motor symptoms ranging from hyposmia (poor sense of smell) to dementia and psychosis. Although these symptoms can develop both before and after the clinical diagnosis of PD, I am interested in several symptoms that may develop prior to disease diagnosis by years. Examples of these symptoms include hyposmia, constipation, depression and certain sleep disturbances. These pre-motor symptoms may greatly facilitate research to identify populations at higher risk for PD and to understand early PD etiology. In the past, we have examined several individual symptoms in relation to PD risk. I am now conducting epidemiological studies to better characterize pre-motor symptoms in various populations and to understand their relevance to the natural history and etiology of PD. Our specific hypotheses are that 1) the presence of multiple pre-motor symptoms in the same individual predicts higher risk of PD;2) environmental (e.g. smoking, caffeine intake, pesticide exposure, ibuprofen use) and genetic (e.g. SNCA, MAPT) factors affect the presence of these pre-motor symptoms and/or modify their progression to overt PD. We have summarized these ideas in a recent paper on the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives. I am the principal Investigator on several PD studies that were built on large prospective cohorts. I have focused on prospective cohorts over case-control studies because they are relatively less prone to recall bias and reverse causation. Since PD is a rare outcome, large cohorts and long follow-up times are needed;research built on existing cohorts allows for relatively efficient and cost-effective case-identification. Further, by its nature, pre-motor research requires prospective studies. My ongoing projects include the Parkinsons Genes and Environment Study based on the NIH-AARP Diet and Health cohort, the PD project in the Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities study, and the Shanghai Parkinsons Study in the Shanghai Womens Health Study. Further, in collaboration with Branch colleagues, I am developing PD research in the Agricultural Health Study and the Sister Study. Finally, I have been continuing a longstanding collaboration with colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health, and have developed a new collaboration with investigators at the Karolinska Institute. While these studies have different specific foci, they share a common theme of revealing the causes of PD and characterizing high risk populations for the purpose of disease prevention. In addition to PD research, I am also a member of the Global Burden of Disease group that estimated the public health burdens of a wide range of diseases across countries in the world. Primary findings were published in a series of papers on Lancet and JAMA.

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Dong, Jing; Gao, Jianjun; Nalls, Michael et al. (2014) Susceptibility loci for pigmentation and melanoma in relation to Parkinson's disease. Neurobiol Aging 35:1512.e5-10
Chen, Honglei; Huang, Xuemei; Guo, Xuguang et al. (2014) Individual and joint prevalence of three nonmotor symptoms of PD in the US general population. Mov Disord 29:1316-9
Guo, Xuguang; Park, Yikyung; Freedman, Neal D et al. (2014) Sweetened beverages, coffee, and tea and depression risk among older US adults. PLoS One 9:e94715
Wirdefeldt, Karin; Weibull, Caroline E; Chen, Honglei et al. (2014) Parkinson's disease and cancer: A register-based family study. Am J Epidemiol 179:85-94
Dong, Jing; Beard, John D; Umbach, David M et al. (2014) Dietary fat intake and risk for Parkinson's disease. Mov Disord 29:1623-30
Nalls, Mike A; Pankratz, Nathan; Lill, Christina M et al. (2014) Large-scale meta-analysis of genome-wide association data identifies six new risk loci for Parkinson's disease. Nat Genet 46:989-93
Kamel, Freya; Goldman, Samuel M; Umbach, David M et al. (2014) Dietary fat intake, pesticide use, and Parkinson's disease. Parkinsonism Relat Disord 20:82-7
Du, Guangwei; Lewis, Mechelle M; Sterling, Nicholas W et al. (2014) Microstructural changes in the substantia nigra of asymptomatic agricultural workers. Neurotoxicol Teratol 41:60-4
Zhang, Zhen-Xin; Chen, Honglei; Chen, Sheng-Di et al. (2014) Chinese culture permeation in the treatment of Parkinson disease: a cross-sectional study in four regions of China. BMC Res Notes 7:65
Liu, Rui; Baird, Donna; Park, Yikyung et al. (2014) Female reproductive factors, menopausal hormone use, and Parkinson's disease. Mov Disord 29:889-96

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