Scientists have identified a gene responsible for developing Parkinson's disease, a discovery that could lead to new ways to treat the degenerative disorder.
Researchers at Stanford University, California, found a molecule, called microRNA, which causes the death of nerve cell in the brain, triggering Parkinson's disease.
Describing their discovery as a "significant step forward" in the battle against the degenerative disease, the scientists said it would pave the way for new drugs that could block the molecule's action in its tracks.
Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition resulting in tremor, difficulty in moving and loss of balance that's usually diagnosed after the age of 60, although one in twenty sufferers are under forty.
A person with Parkinson's will only develop symptoms once around 80 per cent of these cells are lost, so they may have had the condition for some time before problems come to attention, the Telegraph reported.
The researchers, who carried our their study on common fruit fly Drosophila, found that the gene variant results in impaired activity of chemicals which fine-tune protein production in cells.
Lead author Prof Bingwei Lu said: "MicroRNA, whose role in the body has only recently begun to be figured out, has been implicated in cancer, cardiac dysfunction and faulty immune response.
"But this is the first time it has been identified as a key player in a neurodegenerative disease."
The new findings, published in the journal Nature, showed how the mutation trips up normal activity leading to overproduction of at least two proteins that can cause brain cells to die.
Prof Lu and colleagues noticed that laboratory flies with the gene variant had high levels of these proteins after developing brain damage associated with Parkinson's.
And toning down the levels of these two proteins prevented the death of dopamine nerve cells in the flies.