The Frozen Addicts
Gene-Environment Interactions in Parkinson’s Disease
Department of Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology
This interrupted case study is based on a PBS NOVA episode covering events in the summer of 1982 when seven California heroin users mysteriously and suddenly developed Parkinson’s disease. The video, which is shown in class and paused at several designated points for guided class discussion and mini-lectures, provides details about the neurobiology of Parkinson’s disease as well as fundamental principles of the neurobiology of movement. Students consider the evidence that environmental toxins can contribute to Parkinson’s disease susceptibility. By extending the case to an additional class period, students explore pesticides and other chemicals in their environment and the possible impacts on their neurological systems due to exposures. The case concludes with a discussion of current ideas about gene-environment interactions and considerations for current Parkinson’s treatments and research. This case is best suited for use by advanced high school students or early undergraduate students, but it could be adapted for upper-level neuroscience majors as well.
- List at least four Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
- Describe the role of the substantia nigra in Parkinson’s disease neuropathology.
- Diagram an example of motor system circuitry from the motor cortex to a peripheral muscle.
- Compare and contrast the basal ganglia and motor cortex roles in movement.
- Construct an argument supporting an important role for environmental influences on Parkinson’s disease.
- Describe how gene-environment interactions could contribute to disease development.
- Give one example of a gene that is associated with increased Parkinson’s disease risk.
- Describe the relationship between LDOPA and dopamine.
- Compare and contrast four different strategies for Parkinson’s disease treatments.
KeywordsNeuroscience; motor systems; Parkinson’s disease; neuron; pesticide; brain; health; dopamine; disease; heroin;
Topical AreasHistory of science
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division
Type / MethodsInterrupted, Jig-Saw, Problem-Based Learning
Subject HeadingsAnatomy | Epidemiology | Genetics / Heredity | Medicinal Chemistry | Medicine (General) | Neuroscience | Pharmacy / Pharmacology | Physiology | Public Health |
Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.
Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.
Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.
The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.
- NOVA: The Case of the Frozen Addict
This video provides details about the neurobiology of Parkinson’s disease as well as fundamental principles of the neurobiology of movement.
- Frontline: My Father, My Brother, and Me
Correspondent Dave Iverson's personal journey to understand Parkinson's, the disease which has taken such a toll on his family. Running time: 56:14. Produced by PBS, 2009.