Pesticides A Cause For Parkinson’s, Study Says

A new study looks at the environmental causes of Parkinson's disease.

Pesticides image via shutterstock

Spraying pesticides image via shutterstock

A new study, conducted in part by researchers at MIT, has discovered an environmental cause for the death of dopamine-producing nerve cells, which is a cause of Parkinson’s disease.

A collaborative research effort from MIT and Sanford-Burnham’s Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research in La Jolla, California, has recently discovered that a Parkinson’s gene mutation, when exposed to environmental pesticides, results in the death of dopamine-carrying nerve cells.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. Once nerve cells that carry dopamine are killed, the brain begins to lose the ability to control movement and motor functions, and Parkinson’s disease can set in.

This discovery may explain an increased number of Parkinson’s diagnoses among farmers, rural populations, and others who have been exposed to agricultural chemicals.

The research team took samples of Parkinson’s patients’ skin cells and programmed some to express symptoms of Parkinson’s and some to stay normal. Then they exposed both to pesticides and observed how the pesticides contributed to the nerve cell death.

This study supports the theory that Parkinson’s has environmental causes, and now, new studies can be conducted using this information in an effort to create a treatment to block these environmental factors from killing dopamine-producing nerve cells.

In their experiments, the research team identified specific molecules that inhibit the pesticides from damaging nerve cells. One of the molecules they found is already used in FDA approved drugs. “Our findings may have potential clinical implications for repurposing these drugs to treat Parkinson’s,” said Dr. Rajesh Ambasudhan, research assistant professor in the Del E. Webb Center and co-author of the study, in a press release.

Dr. Stuart Lipton, professor and director of the Del E. Webb Center and senior author of the study, said in a press release:

“In the future, we anticipate using the knowledge of mutations that predispose an individual to these diseases in order to predict who should avoid a particular environmental exposure. Moreover, we will be able to screen for patients who may benefit from a specific therapy that can prevent, treat, or possibly cure these diseases.”