Could Fungus and Mold be an Important Contributor to Parkinson’s Disease?

You can find out more about NPF's National Medical Director, Dr. Michael S. Okun, by also visiting the NPF Center of Excellence, University of Florida Center for Movement Disorders & Neurorestoration. Dr. Okun is also the author of the Amazon #1 Parkinson's Best Seller 10 Secrets to a Happier Life.

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 National Parkinson Foundation website.

Selected Reference:
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.

Posted: 12/3/2013 8:43:23 AM by Cathy Whitlock


Browse current and archived What's Hot in PD? articles, the National Parkinson Foundation's monthly blog for people with Parkinson's written by our National Medical Director, Dr. Michael S. Okun. 

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May 2014
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April 2014
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March 2014
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February 2014
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January 2014
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December 2013
Could Fungus and Mold be an Important Contributor to Parkinson’s Disease?

November 2013
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June 2013
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April 2013
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February 2013
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December 2012
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October 2012
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March 2012
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February 2012
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January 2012
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December 2011
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November 2011
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October 2011
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April 2011
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February 2011
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January 2011
A Critical Reappraisal of the Worst Drugs in Parkinson’s Disease

December 2010
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November 2010
Calling for the FDA to Revise the Eight Sinemet a Day Rule

October 2010
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September 2010
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August 2010
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July 2010
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June 2010
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May 2010
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April 2010
Cycling in PD in Those Who Can’t Walk: Is it Possible?

March 2010
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February 2010
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January 2010
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December 2009
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November 2009
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October 2009
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September 2009
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August 2009
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July 2009
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June 2009
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May 2009
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April 2009
Finally a DBS Expert Consensus Statement Aimed at Their True Customers: The Patients

March 2009
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February 2009
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January 2009
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December 2008
Are Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors Disease Modifying or Neuroprotective in PD?

November 2008
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Each month, we will feature a new column by NPF's National Medical Director, Dr. Michael Okun, on the latest developments in Parkinson's disease research. Read the latest "What's Hot in PD?" below.

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