• Sara Ricker

Exploring the Link Between Environmental Chemical and Neurological Diseases

As science has shown us, diseases occur from two main sources: genetics and environment. Millions of dollars are spent yearly for advanced genetic testing and experimenting, with the hope of identifying markers for potentially fatal diseases. As our industrialization and modernization are happening at every corner, exploring environmental factors cannot be placed on the back burner of disease research.

Francisco Quintana, Ph.D. and his colleagues at the Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases at the Brigham were interested in a systematic approach to identifying harmful substances, particularly focusing on Linuron, an herbicide recently banned in Europe over concerns of neurological effects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), allowed Quintana and his researchers access to over 976 chemicals from the ToxCast chemical inventory including those used in food additives, consumer products, and industrial supplies. The selection was narrowed down to 75 candidate compounds.

Quintana and his colleagues diluted each chemical in water and used a novel zebrafish model and mouse models to measure the effects on the central nervous system (CNS). They found inflammatory effects on astrocytes, star-shaped glial cells found in the brain and spinal cord that help to regulate electrical impulses within the brain. The chemicals linuron and methylcarbamate both increased the activity of nos2a, a gene associated with inflammation. Inflammation within astrocytes is seen in individuals with multiple sclerosis, Alzheimers Disease, and brain tumors.

Furthermore, Quintana and his colleagues are collaborating with the EPA to study the role of ToxCast chemicals on diseases such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and to create a systematic approach to finding exactly how these chemicals may pose a potential risk to

those exposed.

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