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Parkinson's disease

Our research is focused on learning more about the genetic and epigenetic factors that influence peoples' risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a neurological condition that causes progressive damage to the brain over many years. It affects around 1 in 500 people but this increases with age; rising to 1 in 100 people over 60 and 3 in 100 people over 80. Symptoms include tremor, slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles. People with the condition may also experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Pathologically, the disease involves the aggregation of alpha-synuclein as Lewy bodies and Lewy neurites in multiple motor and non-motor brain areas. It is caused through a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Our research

Our research is led by Dr Nigel Williams and is focused on learning more about the genetic and epigenetic factors that confer an increased risk to Parkinson's disease. We have strong collaborative links with:

  • Professor Huw Morris (UCL)
  • Professor Nicholas Wood (UCL)
  • Professor John Hardy (UCL)
  • Professor Andrew Singleton (NIH)
  • Professor Jonathon Mill (Exeter)
  • Professor Simon Jones (Cardiff)


As members of the International Parkinson's Disease Genetics Consortium (IPDGC) we conducted a genome-wide association which identified genetic variants at over 28 genetic risk factors for Parkinson's disease. Our follow up studies are investigating functional mechanisms that are key to Parkinson's disease and the genetic relationship with related disorders. These have identified novel biological pathways and evidence that genetic risk for Parkinson's disease is a continuum, composed of the aggregate effect of many risk genes.


Our increased understanding of the human genome has led to a growing recognition of the importance of epigenetic variation. Epigenetic processes act to dynamically control gene expression independently of DNA sequence variation and are known to regulate key neurobiological processes in the brain. We are funded by Parkinson's UK to integrate genome wide DNA methylation data with genetic risk factors to obtain a greater understanding of whether functional mechanisms are involved in Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's Repository of Biosamples and Networked Datasets (PRoBaND)

PRoBaND is a UK-wide study administered by the University of Glasgow and funded by Parkinson's UK. The study involves a detailed clinical assessment for 2200 Parkinson's patients, many of which have been longitudinally assessed over five years. Our group is the central laboratory where all DNA analysis is conducted and all samples (DNA and serum) are stored.

For more information on laboratory procedures please contact Kate (Catherine) Bresner.

Principal Investigators

Professor Nigel Williams

Professor Nigel Williams

Professor, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

+44 (0)29 2068 8466