The herbicide linuron, commonly used with other herbicides, insecticides and fungicides to control the growth of grass and weeds, may be an important environmental risk factor in the development of neurological diseases that include multiple sclerosis, researchers suggest.
Used in the U.S. and other countries — but recently banned in Europe due to its potential health risks — this compound can promote pro-inflammatory signals in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of mice with an MS-like disease, their study shows.
The study, “Environmental Control of Astrocyte Pathogenic Activities in CNS Inflammation,” was published in the journal Cell.
Genetics is widely recognized to influence the development of neurodegenerative disorders, contributing to about 64 percent of all MS cases. But evidence also suggests that the environment — both as a geographic place, and as what a person creates or does within the body through diet and other lifestyle choices — can significantly contribute to disease progression.
Inflammation is known to be the central biological mechanism involved in MS progression. But exactly how environmental factors may contribute is not clear.
A team led by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, developed a new way of identifying environmental factors that can boost immune-driven inflammation in the brain, as well as of defining signaling pathways involved in the regulation of immune-mediated pro-inflammatory activities.
“When we study inflammation and neurodegeneration, we learn that the environment may play just as important of a role as genetics,” Francisco Quintana, principal investigator in the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and senior study author, said in a press release.
The team used zebrafish embryos that were manipulated to have low levels of myelin protecting their nerve cells — similar to what happens in MS and other neurodegenerative diseases. The embryos were also genetically altered to produce a green fluorescent protein when potentially damaging signals were activated.
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