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Chemical Marker in Blood May Predict Fast-Progressing Parkinson's

Researchers have discovered a chemical that is found at higher levels in the blood of people with fast-progressing Parkinson’s disease (PD) than in those with slow-progressing PD. In the future, a test for this biomarker may help predict the rate at which symptoms are likely to progress in people newly diagnosed with PD. The results appear in the October 2013 edition of PLoS One.

The symptoms of PD and the course of the disease can vary widely from person to person. Some people live for many years with very little disability, whereas others experience a more rapid progression, such as a decline in their ability to walk. Scientists have long searched for biomarkers — ideally, substances that can be easily measured in blood or saliva — that would help definitively diagnose PD and predict the unique course of the disease for each person.  

Researchers at Emory University and the University of California, Los Angeles took advantage of blood samples that had been previously collected for an earlier study, between 2001 and 2007, from more than 200 people early in the course of their PD. During the same period they had also drawn blood from people without Parkinson’s, of similar social and educational backgrounds. All participants were non-Hispanic Caucasians living in Central California. 

The study participants were followed for five to 10 years. For this study, scientists, led by Dean P. Jones, Ph.D., at Emory, selected a subset of 80 participants – 39 individuals whose PD progressed quickly during that time and 41 whose PD progressed more slowly. They were chosen based on their motor scores on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale. 

Scientists then used a technique called high-resolution mass spectrometry to search for a range of substances in the stored blood samples from these participants. They also tested blood from 20 individuals who did not have PD.


  • A substance called N8-acetyl spermidine was significantly elevated in the blood of people with fast-progressing PD compared to both healthy individuals and people with slow-progressing PD.

What Does It Mean?

This study points to a possible biomarker for Parkinson’s disease, a substance called N8-acetyl spermidine, which is a product of the body’s metabolism.  

Parkinson’s disease is very variable, meaning for some people it progresses very slowly, while for others, the disease progresses much more quickly. If N8-acetyl spermidine is a true biomarker, a test indicating its presence in the body could predict the progression of Parkinson’s in some individuals. Such a test would help people with Parkinson’s to plan for the future, and might one day enable doctors and people with PD to choose targeted treatments specific to their Parkinson’s.

This finding that N8-acetyl spermidine is a potential biomarker is also very important for clinical trials that test new treatments. When a new therapy or drug is tested, researchers need to study a large number of participants to make sure that any differences in their symptoms are due to the experimental treatment, and not their different rates of PD progression. A biomarker, like this one, might enable researchers to test new drugs on targeted groups and better understand the benefits.

The substance researchers identified, N8-acetyl spermidine, has been linked to aspects of PD previously in laboratory studies but its role in PD in people remains to be determined. Ultimately, it may be possible to identify a variety of such chemicals—a sort of metabolic “fingerprint” that distinguishes PD. While the results of this study are promising, the number of blood samples tested in this pilot study was small, and the results will need to be confirmed with further research. The type of testing done in the study is not routinely available to people with Parkinson’s today. 

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Reference: Roede JR, Uppal K, Park Y, Lee K, Tran V, Walker D, Strobel FH, Rhodes SL, Ritz B, Jones DP (2013) Serum Metabolomics of Slow vs. Rapid Motor Progression Parkinson’s Disease: a Pilot Study Cookson MR, ed. PLoS ONE 8:e77629.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077629.s008

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Source Date: Dec 02 2013