Manganese exposure may speed the emergence of Parkinson's disease symptoms, according to new findings in animals

SANTA CRUZ, CA--A new study suggests that too much manganese, an essential element required by the body in tiny amounts but toxic at elevated levels, may contribute to the early development of Parkinson's disease symptoms in susceptible people. Recent epidemiological studies have suggested an association between Parkinson's disease and elevated exposure to manganese. The new study in animals shows that exposure to low levels of manganese does not directly contribute to the disease, but affects a different part of the brain in a way that exacerbates the effects of Parkinson's.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, evaluated the effects of low-level exposure to manganese using rats with a condition that mimics pre-Parkinsonism, an early stage of the disease in which no symptoms are apparent. Their findings were published in the current issue of the scientific journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

The study highlights the importance of looking at the effects of toxic substances on sensitive subsets of the population who may be most vulnerable, said Donald Smith, an associate professor of environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz and a coauthor of the paper.

"We are concerned about how chronic low-level exposures to toxic substances may accelerate the emergence of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's," Smith said.

The possibility that people in the early stages of Parkinsonism could be especially sensitive to moderately increased levels of manganese is disturbing for several reasons, he said. Manganese is ubiquitous in the environment, and its increasing use in industrial processes may cause some people to take in greater amounts from water, food, and airborne sources. In addition, increased exposure to airborne manganese could result from the use of the manganese compound MMT as a gasoline additive. MMT gained approval for use in the U.S. after its manufacturer, Ethyl Corporation, sued the Environmental Protection Agency and

Contact: Tim Stephens
University of California - Santa Cruz

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