I like coffee, but I don’t consume large amounts of it (as may be evident from the cleanliness of my coffee-making paraphernalia in the painting).
But some people who do drink lots and lots and lots of coffee may be doing themselves a favour – as well as keeping themselves awake, of course. It’s actually pretty old news that caffeine has, in large quantities, a protective effect against developing Parkinson’s. The new news is that the effectiveness of this extreme coffee consumption may be genetic. Apparently, heavy coffee drinkers with a particular variant of the GRIN2A gene (“which regulates brain signals that control movement and behavior”) are even less likely to develop Parkinson’s than other heavy coffee drinkers:
… compared to light coffee drinkers, Parkinson’s risk was 59 percent lower for heavy coffee drinkers with one variant of GRIN2A, but only 18 percent lower among those with a different yet more common variant.
The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (whose acronym, PDF, I keep confusing with a rather useful Adobe file format) have a very good article on the research that produced this finding. They say,
At its simplest, the new study suggests that whether drinking coffee lowers a person’s risk of Parkinson’s depends on which variant of the GRIN2A gene they carry.
They also report upon the implications for some of the new and emerging therapies for Parkinson’s, specifically adenosine antagonists, which work on the brain in a similar way as does coffee, and glutamate antagonists, which interact with GRIN2A.
The authors suggest that such drugs may be effective in a subset of clinical trial participants who carry the appropriate variation of GRIN2A. In the future, genetic testing for GRIN2A or other genetic variations might be used in clinical trials to determine which participants are more likely to respond to a therapy being tested. This would potentially be a first step towards a personalized medicine approach in the treatment of Parkinson’s.
The research was carried out by Haydeh Payami, Ph.D., and her team at the New York State Department of Health Wadsworth Center, and was published in the August 11, 2011 issue of PLoS Genetics.