Researchers in the UK and the US have identified a gene that could allow them to understand more about the nerve cell degeneration that leads to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
The gene, PLA2G6, is linked to a group of rare genetic childhood neurological disorders, called neuroaxonal dystrophies, which cause iron to accumulate in the brain. This is also seen in patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
The group found that when this gene is mutated it changes processes within the cell which leads to a build-up of iron.
According to study leader Professor Susan Hayflick, the discovery of the gene will enable experts to develop a clinical test to help couples determine their chances of passing on neuroaxonal dystrophies to their children.
She added that the discovery also brings hope for research into other neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, where the build up of iron in the brain is a common end effect.
"To the general population [this discovery] has a larger impact," she said.