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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: International Journal of Biological Sciences.

Volume 7, Issue 8, 2011, Pages 1180-1187.

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Copyright © © Ivyspring International Publisher.


Environmental exposure, genetic modification, and aging are considered risky for Parkinson's disease (PD). How these risk factors cooperate to induce progressive neurodegeneration in PD remains largely unknown. Paraquat is an herbicide commonly used for weed and grass control. Exposure to paraquat is associated with the increased incidence of PD. In contrast to familial PD, most sporadic PD cases do not have genetic mutation, but may suffer from partial dysfunction of neuron-protective genes as aging. Using conditional transgenic RNAi, we showed that temporal silencing of PINK1 expression in adult mice increased striatal dopamine, the phenotype that could not be induced by constitutive gene silencing. Moreover, early exposure to paraquat sensitized dopaminergic neurons to subsequent silencing of PINK1 gene expression, leading to a significant loss of dopaminergic neurons. Our findings suggest a novel pathogenesis of PD: exposure to environmental toxicants early in the life reduces the threshold of developing PD and partial dysfunction of neuron-protective genes later in the life initiates a process of progressive neurodegeneration to cross the reduced threshold of disease onset.

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