Herbicide Called Linuron Seen to Trigger Inflammatory Signals Linked to MS in Study

Herbicide Called Linuron Seen to Trigger Inflammatory Signals Linked to MS in Study

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.

After a preliminary computer analysis of 976 molecules of the ToxCast chemical inventory — established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and including a collection of chemicals ranging from industrial and consumer products to food additives — the researchers selected 75 candidate compounds to explore further.

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They exposed the zebrafish embryos to the different compounds, and identified five that triggered production of the fluorescent protein in the central nervous system. They also tested both linuron and methyl carbamate (used by the textile, polymer, and pharmaceutical industries) in key brain and spinal cord cells from mice, called astrocytes, and recorded inflammatory increases within these cells.

Further experiments in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a condition that mimics many clinical features of MS, showed that blocking the signals triggered by linuron effectively prevented these key nervous system cells from activating.

These findings also seemed to translate in ways possibly relevant to people. The team evaluated tissue samples collected from MS patients and healthy controls. They found that patient samples, from brain lesions and normal-appearing white matter, had higher-than-usual levels of linuron-associated signals, suggesting these signals contribute to MS progression.

“Our findings support the need for systematic investigation of the effects of the ‘exposome’— all of the environmental exposures people experience in their lifetime — on neurologic diseases and other conditions,” Quintana said. “Studies of the exposome have the potential to identify unknown origins of inflammation and key environmental factors that may contribute to risk.”

The team emphasized that epidemiological studies are needed to further evaluate how these compounds affect humans.

“This strategy may guide future epidemiologic studies of the effects of the environment on neurologic diseases while identifying molecular mechanisms that control central nervous system pathology and potential therapeutic targets for MS and other neurologic diseases,” the researchers wrote.


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  1. Shelley Eanes says:

    I will like to receive any new information on MS. My daughter was diagnosed with MS when she was 22. She has relapsing remitting Ms. She is now 37 and also has a seizure disorder.

  2. Paula Weight says:

    I was diagnosed with MS 35 years ago. I’m 62 years old. Did 17 years Anonex intramuscular injections weekly. Stopped May 20, 2013. Entered hospital July 8 Septic UTI.
    Had used Detrol La for urgency retention/ approx 10 years . +/- quit using before this Sepsis several years. Now I’m cathetered 4 x daily. Approximately 500 ml @ cath. I urinate regularly . Because of a fall injury. 10/30/15. I have injured my right hand which prevents me from self cathetering , which my husband has voluntarily assumed the role. Since 1/ 2016

  3. david bradley says:

    My sister is currently 73. at age 47 she was diagnosed with MS. they were treating her for inner ear disorder. Was fired from her job, as her employer felt she was drunk all the time. You couldn’t even get a good buzz off all the alcohol she had up to that point in her life. she almost immediately went to a wheel chair after the diagnosis. At the time of her diagnosis, she had been in to see her Dr for further treatment of the supposed inner ear disorder. Another dr she didn’t even know walked up to her as she was leaving and asked what she was being treated for. After she told him, he asked if she would allow him to evaluate her. The evaluation, testing confirmed his suspicions…MS. She ended up in a nursing home about 15 to 16 years ago and has been there since. She is currently unable to recognize even her own children or feed herself. She and 4 other girls that grew up within a 4 block radius of each other were all diagnosed with MS about the same time. 2 of them went blind and 3 have died. My sister is the only one left. All 4 girls were the same age, went to the same schools and did the same activities after school. I have trouble believing the weed killer theory, as when we were growing up, the only weed killer we could afford was weed digger, or pulling them out by hand. However, we did live in the area of Fort Wayne, that the government / military / Army air dropped some sort of nerve agent on us back in the late 50’s or early 60’s. I don’t know the answers, but there as a lot of sick people. Of the many tests they have done on me for Minere’s Disease, the MRIs say I don’t have MS.

  4. Shirley Heap says:

    I have three sons with MS..we lived by a pine tree Nursery when they were growing up, and they sprayed chemicals by plane often. I notified someone once and asked about the chemicals….Of course, I received no satisfaction..Could you give me more information…?

  5. Paula says:

    I grew up in Pontiac , Mi. I lived 2 blocks from the General Motors foundry. Smoke stacks billowing out smoke day and night. I remember in the winter the snow had little specks of black in it. I know my old neighborhood has had a lot of cancers , different kinds of autoimmune diseases. I was sick with so many things growing up. I was always sick. I do believe this had something to do with me being diagnosed with ms.19 years ago. I am now 57 years old.

  6. Karen Riley says:

    I’ve wondered for some time now if my exposure to various chemicals, and toxic
    substances both as a kid and adult paved the way for my primary progressive MS.
    After 5 years of wondering why I felt crooked, why my right foot wouldn’t lift when I walked, and why my knees vibrated on their own when I sat, I was finally diagnosed at age 60 at Brigham & Women’s Partners MS Ctr.
    As a child we lived on the Luxe soap factory
    block inhaling the smokey emissions of boraxo, et al. As an adult working for a wetsuit manufacturer I was exposed daily to toluene, cyanoacrylate, rubber, and rubber cement fumes. At the same time we learned that our home’s development was built on an asbestos landfill courtesy of a nearby major chemical mfr. So,I probably hit the jackpot.
    At close to the 12 yr mark I can no longer walk unassisted, or dare to drive even with hand controls – mobility is severely impaired
    from my right hip down to my toes, Doc calls it paraplegia. I also wall crawl. On a positive note I’ve become more creative with on the fly adaptations to accomplish everyday things, like vacuuming from my scooter, or using it to pull the laundry basket behind me with my cane handle.
    I wish we could skip the abstracts and access a straightforward list of the chemicals now known to harm the immune system, and which possibly contribute to the development of MS and other diseases. That might speed up diagnosis and therapy program direction.

  7. Pauline Johnson says:

    Very interesting. I grew up in India as did my sister that has MS. We had lice several times then and DDT was used to kill the lice. I had seizures for many years after that. Then diagnosed with MS when I was about 45-47 after seeing many doctors.

  8. kyla Ostermann says:

    My cat and I had an auto-immune diagnosis 10 years ago after Round-up herbicide was being used around our house by our Landlord. I have no doubt this caused the onset of both of our issues. I wish people would wake up to the dangers of using chemicals.

  9. Sheri Robinson says:

    Hello, I am a 53 yowf. Was exposed to overspray of Roundup since birth due to living in farm country NE Arkansas all my life. After searching for cause of my strange symptoms since childhood finally diagnosed with MS in 2010.
    Every year my parents complained about the overspray killing our fruit trees, pine trees, and garden.
    Would love to know more and be included in study for this area.

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