Scientists have come out with a find that may make people even more wary of using agricultural chemicals in their gardens or farms. Paraquat, a common chemical weed killer could be the hidden hand behind those suffering with Parkinson's disease, at least those with certain genes that render them susceptible to one of the world's most common neurological disorder.
In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers from the University of Alabama,conducted an experiment whereby they subjected fruit flies, known scientifically as Drosophila melanogaster, to low doses of paraquat. The scientists chose fruit flies as the animal models because these creatures have biochemical similarities to humans, particularly in regard to chemicals produced within their brain cells.
It was seen that on low dose ingestion of paraquat, certain neurons in the brain known as dopamine neurons, were almost totally wiped out or destroyed within a day.
These neurons produce the neuro transmitter dopamine. A paucity of dopamine caused by destruction of these neurons results in Parkinson's diseases. No one knows till now what exactly causes the destruction of these neurons.
On ingestion of paraquat, the fruit flies began to demonstrate the tremors typical of Parkinsonism.
The research focused on select genes that influence dopamine synthesis and the release of dopamine from brain cells. The genes identified include those that regulate tetrahydrobiopterin, a compound that is required to make dopamine, as well as those involved directly in dopamine synthesis.
It was found that some flies, which had a mutated gene that resulted in the production of very little dopamine, were more susceptible to the effects of paraquat, while those with mutated genes that resulted in the production of too much dopamine were in fact resistant.
Another interesting find was that male flies were more vulnerable to the effects of paraquat. This draws a parallel to humans where men are the major sufferers.
Says Co- author Dr. Janis O'Donnell, about the study findings : " Our hope is we can use this observation to discover other genes that might be influencing how these models, or human beings, might be more or less susceptible to these toxic agents.
" That's exciting because it tells us that perhaps there are ways to exploit this, to identify different ways that people could be treated to help slow down the progress of this disease. By the time you discover a person has Parkinson's disease, they have lost so many neurons, it's almost impossible to reverse the trend. If you could predict it in advance, perhaps there would be some sort of therapy that could be applied to help protect those individuals."