What causes Parkinson's? Learn more about the genetic and environmental factors at play.

Three generations of male farmers sitting on the back of a truck

Scientists believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors are the cause of Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD is an extremely diverse disorder. While no two people experience Parkinson’s the same way, there are some commonalities.

Parkinson’s affects about one million people in the U.S. and 10 million worldwide. The main finding in brains of people with PD is loss of dopaminergic neurons (these regulate movement and play a key role in Parkinson's progression) in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra.


Genetics cause about 10 to 15% of all Parkinson's. Over the years, scientists have studied DNA from people with Parkinson's, comparing their genes. They discovered dozens of gene mutations linked to Parkinson's. Read more about how genetics affects PD.

PD GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson’s Disease, is a first-of-its-kind, national initiative that offers free genetic testing for clinically relevant Parkinson's-related genes and free genetic counseling to help participants better understand their results. Learn more about PD GENEration.

Environmental Factors

Some environmental exposures may lower the risk of PD, while others may increase it. The interactions between genes and the environment can be quite complex. Environmental risk factors associated with PD include head injury, area of residence, exposure to pesticides and more. Learn how environmental factors play a role in PD.

Genetic and Environmental Interactions

Genetics Graphic Puzzle

Although several genetic mutations have been identified to be associated with a higher risk of developing Parkinson's disease (PD) most people do not have these genetic variations.

On the other hand, even though pesticides and head traumas are associated with PD, most people do not have any obvious exposure to these environmental factors.

Parkinson's is caused by a combination of genes, environmental and lifestyle influences. The interaction of all three components determines if someone will develop Parkinson's. Parkinson’s-specific research is critical to better understanding how these components interact to cause PD and how to prevent it.

Page reviewed by Dr. Lauren Fanty, Movement Disorders Fellow at the University of Florida, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence.

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