Glucocerebrosidase and Parkinson Disease: Molecular, Clinical, and Therapeutic Implications

Neuroscientist. 2018 Oct;24(5):540-559. doi: 10.1177/1073858417748875. Epub 2018 Feb 4.


Parkinson disease (PD) is a complex neurodegenerative disease characterised by multiple motor and non-motor symptoms. In the last 20 years, more than 20 genes have been identified as causes of parkinsonism. Following the observation of higher risk of PD in patients affected by Gaucher disease, a lysosomal disorder caused by mutations in the glucocerebrosidase (GBA) gene, it was discovered that mutations in this gene constitute the single largest risk factor for development of idiopathic PD. Patients with PD and GBA mutations are clinically indistinguishable from patients with idiopathic PD, although some characteristics emerge depending on the specific mutation, such as slightly earlier onset. The molecular mechanisms which lead to this increased PD risk in GBA mutation carriers are multiple and not yet fully elucidated, they include alpha-synuclein aggregation, lysosomal-autophagy dysfunction and endoplasmic reticulum stress. Moreover, dysfunction of glucocerebrosidase has also been demonstrated in non-GBA PD, suggesting its interaction with other pathogenic mechanisms. Therefore, GBA enzyme function represents an interesting pharmacological target for PD. Cell and animal models suggest that increasing GBA enzyme activity can reduce alpha-synuclein levels. Clinical trials of ambroxol, a glucocerebrosidase chaperone, are currently ongoing in PD and PD dementia, as is a trial of substrate reduction therapy. The aim of this review is to summarise the main features of GBA-PD and discuss the implications of glucocerebrosidase modulation on PD pathogenesis.

Keywords: Lewy bodies; Parkinson disease; glucocerebrosidase; non-motor; pathogenesis; therapy; α-synuclein.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Glucosylceramidase / genetics*
  • Glucosylceramidase / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Parkinson Disease* / enzymology
  • Parkinson Disease* / genetics
  • Parkinson Disease* / therapy
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism


  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Glucosylceramidase