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This article reviews evidence for the occurrence of atypical parkinsonism in Afro-Caribbean and Indian ethnic minority subjects living in western countries, particularly the UK. Current information on the frequency, pattern, and prevalence of Parkinson's disease and parkinsonism in these communities is unclear and controversial. While several workers have suggested that there is a low prevalence of Parkinson's disease in populations of African origin, other workers have suggested a higher prevalence of Parkinson's disease in African Americans. Furthermore, little information is available in relation to the pattern of parkinsonism in these subjects. A recent phenomenologic study of parkinsonism in the French West Indies by Caparros-Lefebvre and colleagues has indicated a significantly increased frequency of atypical parkinsonism in local non-white subjects. Since 1995, we have been studying the pattern and frequency of parkinsonism in Afro-Caribbean and Indian (originating from the Indian subcontinent) patients living in the UK, with London serving as the coordinating center. Our results indicate that there is a three- to fourfold increase in the frequency of occurrence of sporadic atypical parkinsonism characterized by levodopa hyporesponsiveness, bradykinesia-dominant disease, and early cognitive dysfunction in these patients even after exclusion of patients with clinically probable multiple system atrophy, progressive supranuclear palsy, and Lewy body dementia. These findings are similar to observations made in the French West Indies. Ongoing studies in India suggest that atypical parkinsonism also affects local patients, and the pattern of parkinsonism tends to differ from Afro-Caribbean subjects in the UK. Studies are currently underway to unravel the mechanism of increased frequency of atypical parkinsonism in these ethnic groups and include genetic studies addressing polymorphisms of enzymes metabolizing levodopa, dietary neurotoxin screen and functional imaging studies of the striatum using positron emission tomography. Furthermore, the contribution of diabetes mellitus and hypertension, commonly seen in these ethnic groups, is also being examined.

Original publication




Journal article


Mov Disord

Publication Date





18 - 23


Blacks, Emigration and Immigration, England, Humans, India, Parkinson Disease, Risk Factors, West Indies, Whites