There are many great mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding the potential causes of Parkinson’s disease. One of the most important and most studied is, “why are only a minority of cases caused by a single genetic abnormality?” One famous researcher from California coined the phrase, “the genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger” (Judith Stern, UC Davis). Many Parkinson’s disease researchers have refocused their efforts to attempt to identify potential environmental triggers.
One researcher at Rutgers, Dr. Bennett, following her experience post-Katrina was inspired. The gaseous smells and molds seemed to make her sick. Fast-forward several years and Dr. Bennett (who later moved to New Jersey) collaborating with researchers from Emory University in Atlanta GA took a closer look at the fungus association in Parkinson’s disease.Most of the environmental risk factors described as being important to Parkinson’s disease have been man-made chemicals, but Bennett and her colleagues decided to focus on a naturally occurring cause; mold. They honed in on semiochemical 1-octen-3-ol which is a fungus known to reduce dopamine levels and kill dopamine cells in flies. The researchers in a series of unique experiments showed a relationship of the fungus to development of Parkinson’s disease in flies, and also showed this finding in cell lines manufactured from humans. The researchers even developed a way to rescue the flies and protect them from the fungus. The authors hypothesize that semiochemical 1-octen-3-ol is a naturally occurring environmental agent that may spark the degeneration leading to Parkinson’s disease. Their findings appear in this month’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Though tempting to over-interpret these findings, we must consider that these studies were not performed in awake and behaving humans, and it will therefore take time to confirm their validity and clinical significance. However, it is intriguing to ponder that there may be common and naturally occurring environmental toxins that if avoided may decrease the risk of the development of Parkinson’s disease. We will continue to follow this story and to post any updates on the Parkinson's Foundation website.
Inamdar AA, Hossain MM, Bernstein AI, Miller GW, Richardson JR, Bennett JW. Fungal-derived semiochemical 1-octen-3-ol disrupts dopamine packaging and causes neurodegeneration. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Nov 11. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 24218591.
You can find out more about our National Medical Director, Dr. Michael S. Okun, by also visiting the Center of Excellence, University of Florida Health Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration. Dr. Okun is also the author of the Amazon #1 Parkinson's Best Seller 10 Secrets to a Happier Life and 10 Breakthrough Therapies for Parkinson's Disease.