Researchers at Iowa State University has released a new study exploring the biological processes following chronic exposure to certain metals and the subsequent onset of symptoms in neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s disease.
In the study, researchers focused on the metal manganese, an essential mineral, in which excessive exposure can result in misfolded proteins in the brain and increase the risk of developing a neurological disease. The association between heavy exposure to manganese and Parkinson’s can be traced back to 1837, in a report authored by Dr. John Couper.
Researchers found that manganese combines with alpha-synuclein, a protein encoded by the SNCA gene which remains a pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s. The pathological form of misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins are packaged into vesicles and then transferred from cell to cell to disseminate the protein-seeding activity. The vesicles could cause inflammation of tissues thus triggering a neurodegenerative response.
The findings were based on data retrieved from mice and blood serum samples from welders supplied by Penn State University.
Of the samples from welders, researchers concluded that those exposed to manganese exhibited increased misfolded alpha-synuclein serum content, putting them at a higher risk of developing neurodegenerative symptoms.
“The research could contribute to a new assay, or medical test, to detect the presence of misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins. This could lead to earlier detection of Parkinson’s Disease and a way to gauge the effectiveness of drugs designed to slow the disease,” researchers say.
“Earlier detection, perhaps by testing for misfolded alpha-synuclein, can lead to better outcomes for patients. Such a test might also indicate whether someone is at risk before the onset of the disease.”
The findings were published in the journal Science Signaling.