European Journal of Epidemiology

, 26:1

First online:

Epidemiology and etiology of Parkinson’s disease: a review of the evidence

  • Karin WirdefeldtAffiliated withDepartment of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska InstitutetDepartment of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet Email author 
  • , Hans-Olov AdamiAffiliated withDepartment of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska InstitutetDepartment of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health
  • , Philip ColeAffiliated withSchool of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • , Dimitrios TrichopoulosAffiliated withDepartment of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health
  • , Jack MandelAffiliated withDalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

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The etiology of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is not well understood but likely to involve both genetic and environmental factors. Incidence and prevalence estimates vary to a large extent—at least partly due to methodological differences between studies—but are consistently higher in men than in women. Several genes that cause familial as well as sporadic PD have been identified and familial aggregation studies support a genetic component. Despite a vast literature on lifestyle and environmental possible risk or protection factors, consistent findings are few. There is compelling evidence for protective effects of smoking and coffee, but the biologic mechanisms for these possibly causal relations are poorly understood. Uric acid also seems to be associated with lower PD risk. Evidence that one or several pesticides increase PD risk is suggestive but further research is needed to identify specific compounds that may play a causal role. Evidence is limited on the role of metals, other chemicals and magnetic fields. Important methodological limitations include crude classification of exposure, low frequency and intensity of exposure, inadequate sample size, potential for confounding, retrospective study designs and lack of consistent diagnostic criteria for PD. Studies that assessed possible shared etiological components between PD and other diseases show that REM sleep behavior disorder and mental illness increase PD risk and that PD patients have lower cancer risk, but methodological concerns exist. Future epidemiologic studies of PD should be large, include detailed quantifications of exposure, and collect information on environmental exposures as well as genetic polymorphisms.


Parkinson disease Epidemiology Risk factor