Honglei Chen, MD, PhD

Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
909 Wilson Road Room B601
East Lansing, MI  48824

Dr. Chen is a Professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics of Michigan State University. His research focuses on neurodegenerative diseases, especially Parkinson's disease. He works on several large prospective cohorts to ascertain the environmental and genetic causes of Parkinson's disease and to characterize high risk populations through research on prodromal symptoms and biomarkers. The ultimate goal is disease prevention and more effective clinical management.

Dr. Chen's primary research interests include:

• Environment, genes, and gene-environment interactions in the etiology of Parkinson's disease: Genes and environmental factors, alone or in combination, contribute to the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease. Over the past decade, Dr. Chen’s research has contributed to a better understanding of the role of environmental factors in Parkinson's etiology. For example, he reported that long duration of smoking, rather than smoking intensity, might underlie the lower risk of Parkinson's disease among smokers (Chen et al., Neurology, 2010). He and collaborators also found that moderate to vigorous exercise (Xu et al., Neurology, 2010), ibuprofen use (Chen et al., Ann Neurol, 2005; Gao X. et al., Neurology, 2011), and higher plasma urate (Chen et al., Am J Epidemiol, 2009) were each associated with a lower risk of Parkinson's disease, whereas pesticides (Ascherio et al., Ann Neurol, 2006), air pollution (Liu et al., EHP, 2016), and diary intake (Chen, et al., Ann Neurol, 2002, Am J Epidemiol, 2007) may potentially contribute to Parkinson’s risk. In collaboration with an international consortium and others, he also contributed to the identification of multiple genetic loci that affected the risk of late-onset Parkinson's disease (Simón-Sánchez et al., Nat Genet, 2009; IPDGC, Lancet 2011) and the first gene-environment interaction that was identified in a genome-wide approach (Hemza et al., PLoS Genet, 2011).

• Prodromal neurodegeneration: Late-onset neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s often take decades to develop, and by the time of diagnosis, are generally too far gone to stop, slow down, or reverse. Over the past decade, it has become clear that a variety of nonspecific symptoms (e.g., olfactory impairment and sleep disorders) may develop years, if not decades, prior to the clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Chen and his colleagues have contributed significantly to documenting these symptoms in prodromal Parkinson’s using population-based cohorts (Gao X et al., Am J Epidemiol, 2007; Fang et al., Mov Disord, 2010; Gao J. et al., Am J Epidemiol, 2011; Gao X. et al., Am J Epidemiol, 2011; Alonso et al., Ann Neurol, 2015; Chen et al., Neurology, 2017). By conducting this line of research in large prospective cohorts, Dr. Chen aims to better understand how these symptoms develop and progress in prodromal Parkinson’s disease, and to identify factors that are involved (e.g., air pollutants and pesticides). In pursuing these goals, he chose to focus on olfaction impairment and REM sleep behavior disorder, two of the most important prodromal symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. As these symptoms also develop in the prodromal stage of dementia and some other neurodegenerative diseases, Dr. Chen’s research will have broad implications in understanding neurodegeneration beyond Parkinson’s disease.


Dr. Chen earned his M.D. from TianJin Medical University in TianJin, China, and Master's degree from the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine in Beijing, China. In 2001, he earned his Ph.D. in Nutritional Epidemiology from Tufts University in Boston, MA and then worked as a Research Fellow and Instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health. From 2005-2016, Dr. Chen worked at the Epidemiology Branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and received his Tenured Senior Investigator appointment from NIH in 2013. He serves on the editorial board of the American Journal of Epidemiology and has about 150 original publications.

Selected Publications

Palta P, Chen H, Deal JA, Sharrett AR, Gross AL, Knopman D, Griswold M, Heiss G, Mosley TH. Olfactory Function and Neurocognitive Outcomes in Old Age: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Neurocognitive Study (ARIC-NCS). Alzheimers Dement 2018 pii: S1552-5260(18)30073-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2018.02.019. PMID: 29605223

Shrestha S, Kamel F, Umbach DM, Beane Freeman LE, Koutros S, Alavanja M, Sandler DP, Chen H. Nonmotor symptoms and Parkinson disease in United States farmers and spouses. PLoS One. 2017 Sep 27;12(9):e0185510. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0185510. eCollection 2017. PubMed PMID: 28953962. 

Chen H, Shrestha S, Huang X, Jain S, Guo X, Tranah GJ, Garcia ME, Satterfield S, Phillips C, Harris TB; Health ABC Study. Olfaction and incident Parkinson disease in US white and black older adults. Neurology. 2017 Sep 6. pii: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004382. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004382. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28878051. (with editorial and press release) 

Dong J, Pinto JM, Guo X, Alonso A, Tranah G, Cauley JA, Garcia M, Satterfield S, Huang X, Harris T, Mosley TH Jr, Chen H. The Prevalence of Anosmia and Associated Factors Among U.S. Black and White Older Adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Aug 1;72(8):1080-1086. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx081. PubMed PMID: 28498937. 

Liu B, Fang F, Pedersen NL, Tillander A, Ludvigsson JF, Ekbom A, Svenningsson P, Chen H, Wirdefeldt K. Vagotomy and Parkinson disease: A Swedish register-based matched-cohort study. Neurology. 2017 May 23;88(21):1996-2002. doi:
10.1212/WNL.0000000000003961. Epub 2017 Apr 26. PubMed PMID: 28446653; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5440238.

Yaffe K, Freimer D, Chen H, Asao K, Rosso A, Rubin S, Tranah G, Cummings S, Simonsick E. Olfaction and risk of dementia in a biracial cohort of older adults. Neurology. 2017 Jan 31;88(5):456-462. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000003558. Epub2016 Dec 30. PubMed PMID: 28039314; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5278947.

Dong J, Wyss A, Yang J, Price TR, Nicolas A, Nalls M, Tranah G, Franceschini N, Xu Z, Schulte C, Alonso A, Cummings SR, Fornage M, Zaykin D, Li L, Huang X, Kritchevsky S, Liu Y, Gasser T, Wilson RS, De Jager PL, Singleton AB, Pinto JM, Harris T, Mosley TH Jr, Bennett DA, London S, Yu L, Chen H. Genome-Wide Association Analysis of the Sense of Smell in U.S. Older Adults: Identification of Novel Risk Loci in African-Americans and European-Americans. Mol Neurobiol. 2016 Nov 23. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 27878761; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5441979.

Liu R, Young MT, Chen JC, Kaufman JD, Chen H. Ambient Air Pollution Exposures and Risk of Parkinson Disease. Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Nov;124(11):1759-1765. Epub 2016 Jun 10. PubMed PMID: 27285422; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5089873.

Alonso A, Huang X, Mosley TH, Heiss G, Chen H: Heart rate variability and the incidence of Parkinson’s disease: the ARIC study: Ann Neurol. doi: ;77(5):877-83. doi: 10.1002/ana.24393, 2015. PMID: 25707861 (NIEHS DIR paper of the month, and DIR paper of the year)

Liu R, Umbach D, Peddada S, Tröster AI, Huang X, Chen H: Potential sex differences in non-motor symptoms in early drug-naive Parkinson disease: Neurology (with editorial), 2015, PMID: 25925983 (NIEHS DIR paper of the month)

Fang F, Wirdefeldt K, Jacks A, Kamel F, Ye W, Chen H: CNS Infections, sepsis, and the risk for Parkinson’s disease. Int J Epidemiol. 41(4):1042-9. 2012; PMID: 22523201; PMCID: PMC3429872

Chen H, Huang X, Guo X, Mailman RB, Park Y, Kamel F, Umbach DM, Xu Q, Hollenbeck A, Schatzkin A, Blair A. Smoking duration, intensity, and risk of Parkinson disease. Neurology. 2010;74(11):878-84. PMID: 20220126; PMCID: PMC2836869.

Xu Q, Park Y, Huang X, Hollenbeck A, Blair A, Schatzkin A, Chen H. Diabetes and risk of Parkinson's disease. Diabetes Care. 2011;34(4):910-5. PMID: 21378214; PMCID: PMC3064050

Xu Q, Park Y, Huang X, Hollenbeck A, Blair A, Schatzkin A, Chen H. Physical activities and future risk of Parkinson disease. Neurology. 2010;75(4):341-8. PMID: 20660864; PMCID: PMC2918886.

Chen H, Jacobs E, Schwarzschild MA, McCullough ML, Calle EE, Thun MJ, Ascherio A. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug use and the risk for Parkinson's disease. Ann Neurol. 2005;58(6):963-7. PMID: 16240369