An eye on Parkinson’s

personalEYES | 12 Sep 2019

An eye on Parkinson’s

An English study has found a potential link between Parkinson’s disease and visual problems.

Parkinson’s, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, is typically known for the debilitating effects it has on movement, motor skills, and in later stages of the disease, brain function. Its onset has not traditionally been associated with eyesight problems.


The new research by scientists at the University of York highlights how much there is still to learn about the disease. Using the visual nerve cells of the common fruit fly (Drosophila) the team studied the effect of the most common Parkinson’s-related mutation. They found that when the common Parkinson’s-related mutation was introduced to the eye cells, there was a gradual loss of function in eye nerve cells.

Research leader Dr Chris Elliot, said that the discovery was important for the future treatment of Parkinson’s: “This is a significant step forward as it will help to identify those people with Parkinson’s who may be at greater risk of changes in their vision. It will assist clinicians to manage the condition more effectively.”

Additionally, Dr Elliot stated that the discovery requires a rethink of the how society views the illness.

“We have to get away from the idea that Parkinson’s is only about movement problems. This work indicates that changes in vision may also affect people with the most common form of inherited Parkinson’s.”

Importantly, the study did not find any eye nerve function loss when other forms of Parkinson’s mutations were introduced.


Though it might seem like drawing a long bow to compare a fruit fly eye to the human eye, the test subject’s eye was deliberately chosen. As it is the death of dopamine producing cells that causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, to test the effect of the disease on eyesight, it was necessary to observe dopamine levels in eye cells. Human and fruit fly eyes have similar levels of dopamine, and can therefore be compared with a degree of accuracy.