Study finds 10 pesticides linked to development of Parkinsons disease

Parkinson's disease: The signs and symptoms

Pesticides have become so popular due to their ability to bridge the gap between ensuring good crops and minimising the threats that can jeopardise this effort.

The chemicals are designed to control pests, weeds and diseases.

However, the very products that are meant to preserve plants could be harming humans, according to a new study, published in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers at The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Health and Harvard have identified 10 pesticides that could raise the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The toxins used in the ten products were found to “significantly” damage neurons implicated in the development of the neurodegenerative disorder.

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While environmental factors, such as pesticide exposure, have long been linked to Parkinson’s disease, it has been harder to pinpoint the exact products that may be behind this raised risk.

In California alone, the nation’s largest agricultural producer and exporter, there are nearly 14,000 pesticide products with over 1,000 active ingredients registered for use.

Now, the research team was able to identify the exact culprits through a novel pairing of epidemiology and toxicity screening. 

The UCLA researchers examined exposure history going back decades, focusing on 288 pesticides among Central Valley patients with Parkinson’s disease who had participated in previous studies. 

Firstly, the research team was able to determine long-term exposure for each person.

Then, they tested each product individually for association with Parkinson’s disease, using what they labelled a pesticide-wide association analysis.

Based on this approach, the researchers identified 53 pesticides that appeared to be implicated in Parkinson’s disease.

Interestingly, most of them had not been previously studied for a potential link and are still in use today.

These results were then shared for further analysis, which narrowed the group down to 10 pesticides.

These products were found to be “directly toxic” to dopaminergic neurons, which play a key role in voluntary movement.

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The researchers explained that the death of these neurons is considered a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.

The ten culprits included: four insecticides (dicofol, endosulfan, naled, propargite), three herbicides (diquat, endothall, trifluralin), and three fungicides (copper sulfate [basic and pentahydrate] and folpet). 

The findings also revealed that co-exposure to pesticides that are typically used in combinations in cotton farming were more toxic than any single pesticide in that group.

What’s worse, most of the pesticides are still in use today, according to the researchers.

Apart from their toxicity to dopaminergic neurons, there is little that connects these pesticides. 

They have a wide range of uses, are structurally distinct, and do not share a prior toxicity classification.

Kimberly Paul, PhD, a lead author and assistant professor of neurology at UCLA, said the study demonstrated their approach could broadly screen for pesticides implicated in Parkinson’s disease and better understand the strength of these associations.

The research team is now planning to further study the link between exposure to pesticides and the neurodegenerative disorder.

Harvard and other labs are also currently looking at specific neuronal processes impacted by pesticides such as trifluralin and copper.

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