FRIDAY, April 22 (HealthDay News) -- The same gene mutation that causes a fatal neurological disease in Tibetan Terrier dogs also causes a hereditary form of Parkinson's disease in humans, a new study reports.

This finding, which was aided using the DNA of a Tibetan Terrier named Topper, could one day lead to a treatment for early-onset Parkinson's, according to the University of Missouri researchers.

When Topper reached the age of about 5 years, he began to show signs of behavioral changes, such as increased shyness. Soon after, he began to lose muscle control and then developed what his owner described as "terrible" seizures. After Topper was euthanized, his DNA was studied.

The investigators were able to use Topper's DNA to identify the gene mutation that causes adult-onset neuronal ceroid-lipofuscinosis (NCL) in Tibetan Terriers.

While the mutation causes NCL in these dogs, it also causes a hereditary form of Parkinson's disease in humans, the researchers say.

The findings mean that Tibetan Terriers can be tested for the gene mutation to prevent them from passing it to the next generation. It also may be possible to use dogs with the gene mutation to test experimental treatments for Parkinson's disease in humans, the researchers pointed out in the report published in the June issue of the journal Neurobiology of Disease.

"Dogs and people suffer from the same diseases, and it's much easier to discover gene issues in dogs because of the unique genetics of pure-bred dogs," Dennis OBrien, a professor in the veterinary medicine and surgery department, said in a university news release. "Because we have a medical school and veterinary school near each other, we can find the genes in the dog and then find out if they cause a similar disease in people."

Other symptoms that show up in Tibetan Terriers with the gene mutation, usually around age 5, include dementia, vision problems, loss of coordination and unprovoked aggression.

More information

We Move has more about Parkinson's disease.