The hidden threat of microplastics: new research links to Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects neurons. Now a recent study has demonstrated the existence of a connection between the disease and microplastics

Since its inception in the early 20th century, synthetic plastic – particularly plastic packaging – has become a ubiquitous presence in our daily lives. However, as plastic slowly decomposes, it generates increasingly smaller fragments known as microplastics and nanoplastics, depending on their size.

These minuscule pieces of plastic contaminate water and food sources, making their way into humans and other living organisms. Indeed, researchers have found that tiny plastic particles can be detected in the blood of most adults tested.

A recent study has now revealed that nanoplastics can induce changes in the brain similar to those seen in Parkinson’s disease.

The study

Researchers have discovered that environmental nanoplastics can interact with a protein called alpha-synuclein, naturally found in every brain where it plays a role in the communication of nerve cells. In diseases like Parkinson’s and some forms of dementia, however, alpha-synuclein undergoes changes.

The proteins aggregate, forming what are known as alpha-synuclein fibrils. These fibrils can then be found accumulated in the nerve cells of individuals with Parkinson’s disease and some types of dementia.

Using a wide array of laboratory techniques, the team studied the effect of nanoplastics. They utilized polystyrene nanoparticles, a material commonly used to produce disposable items like cups, and found that they tightly bound to alpha-synuclein, causing it to form toxic clumps similar to those observed in Parkinson’s disease.

Key observations include the rapid and tight binding of nanoplastics to alpha-synuclein, the promotion of alpha-synuclein accumulation and fibril formation, and their ability to enter neurons in culture, compromising the breakdown of protein aggregates, such as alpha-synuclein fibrils.

The study demonstrated that nanoplastics alone could promote the formation of alpha-synuclein fibrils in nerve cells, highlighting the need for further monitoring of plastic waste and environmental pollution.

The effect of microplastics in promoting cancer and immune diseases remains an active area of research, but this study further supports the notion that microplastics have far-reaching implications for human health.

Source: ScienceAdvances

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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