Ageing is the greatest risk factor for the development of Parkinson's disease. However, the current dogma holds that cellular mechanisms that are associated with ageing of midbrain dopamine neurons and those that are related to dopamine neuron degeneration in Parkinson's disease are unrelated. We propose, based on evidence from studies of non-human primates, that normal ageing and the degeneration of dopamine neurons in Parkinson's disease are linked by the same cellular mechanisms and, therefore, that markers of cellular risk factors accumulate with age in a pattern that mimics the pattern of degeneration observed in Parkinson's disease. We contend that ageing induces a pre-parkinsonian state, and that the cellular mechanisms of dopamine neuron demise during normal ageing are accelerated or exaggerated in Parkinson's disease through a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
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