Potential Link Between Fungus And Parkinson’s Disease Discovered
November 12, 2013

Potential Link Between Fungus And Parkinson’s Disease Discovered

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An organic compound that is often emitted by fungi has been found to cause symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in fruit flies, and could be linked to the neurodegenerative condition in humans, researchers claim in the Monday’s edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Arati Inamdar and Joan Bennett of Rutgers University and their colleagues report that they had discovered a link between the compound 1-octen-3-ol (also known as mushroom alcohol) and the degeneration of two genes involved in the release of the chemical dopamine, which is released by nerve cells to communicate with other nerve cells, as well as with the brain.

“Parkinson's has been linked to exposure to environmental toxins, but the toxins were man-made chemicals,” Inamdar said in a statement. “In this paper, we show that biologic compounds have the potential to damage dopamine and cause Parkinson's symptoms.”

For Bennett, the study was somewhat personal in nature. She was teaching at Tulane University in New Orleans in 2005, when the region was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Following the storm, Bennett’s house developed mold and fungus. While collecting samples from her home, she began to feel ill, despite wearing protective gear.

“I knew something about ‘sick building syndrome’ but until then I didn’t believe in it. I didn’t think it would be possible to breathe in enough mold spores to get sick,” she explained. “While I was doing the sampling, I felt horrible – headaches, dizziness, nausea. I had a conversion experience.”

Bennett, who now works as a professor of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers, began to research the potential connection between fungi and the types of symptoms she experienced in New Orleans. She needed a genetic model for her research, and her colleague Inamdar recommended using fruit flies.

Bennett was given an initial grant from Rutgers in order to pursue her research, and she and her colleagues studied a variety of different compounds over the course of 12 months, attempting to understand exactly how each worked. As Inamdar explained, experts have long known that there was some link between exposure to fungi and health issues, but no one had ever conducted in-depth research into the biological mechanisms at work.

“The scientists discovered that the volatile organic compound 1-octen-3-ol, otherwise known as mushroom alcohol, can cause movement disorders in flies, similar to those observed in the presence of pesticides, such as paraquat and rotenone,” the university explained. “Further, they discovered that it attacked two genes that deal with dopamine, degenerating the neurons and causing the Parkinson’s-like symptoms.”

While research shows that Parkinson’s disease is on the rise in rural areas, it is often attributed to exposure to pesticides. However, these regions also have a lot of exposure to mold and mushrooms, leading the researchers to conclude that 1-octen-3-ol could be connected to the neurodegenerative condition, especially for those who are genetically susceptible to it.

The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition to Inamdar and Bennett, co-authors of the study include Muhammad Hossein and Jason Richardson from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and Alison Bernstein and Gary Miller of Emory University.