SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 14 - Low-level exposure to a banned but lingering pesticide appears to accelerate changes in the brain that can potentially lead to the onset of Parkinson's disease symptoms years or even decades before they might naturally develop. This finding, by researchers at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, was presented today at the 232nd national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
The concept of an accelerated disease process is a new twist in the investigation of the long-suspected link between the use of pesticides and Parkinson's disease, according to the researchers.
"Our current study clearly shows that pesticides such as dieldrin appear to accelerate or exacerbate the already underlying disease," said Gary Miller, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Emory University. "Pesticides aren't necessarily the causative agents, but they do promote Parkinson's. So it appears the more you are exposed to pesticides, the greater your risk of developing the disease earlier in life."
In their pilot study, Miller and his co-researchers -- Emory graduate student Jaime Hatcher and Georgia Tech Professor Kurt Pennell, Ph.D. -- found that levels of dieldrin, an organochlorine pesticide developed in the 1940s as an alternative to DDT, were three times higher in the brains of 14 people who had Parkinson's disease than in the brains of 12 people who didn't.
Based on this finding, the researchers estimated the lifetime exposure levels of these people and extrapolated these levels to mice. They then exposed laboratory mice to low, but "environmentally relevant" dosages of dieldrin - about 1 to 3 milligrams per kilogram. After one month, although none of the mice showed symptoms of Parkinson's disease, the researchers did detect increased levels of oxidative stress in the brain and significantly reduced uptake