Studies Link Between Pesticides, Parkinson's Disease

Armen Hareyan's picture

Parkinson's Disease

University of Iowa College of Pharmacy researcher Jonathan Doorn, Ph.D., has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study a possible link between pesticide exposure and Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a degenerative disease that affects more than one million people in the United States. Currently, there are no treatments to effectively halt or slow the disease's progression.


"The exact cause of PD is unknown but it is thought to involve environmental factors, such as exposure to pesticides," said Doorn, an assistant professor in the college's medicinal and natural products chemistry division. "Unfortunately, the molecular mechanisms underlying the association between exposure and disease are not understood."

PD is characterized as the loss or impairment of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, involved in the coordination of movement. The neurodegeneration that occurs in PD may involve a toxic metabolite, or biochemical byproduct, that comes from dopamine.

The NIH grant will allow Doorn to study how one pesticide in particular -- dieldrin -- plays a role in the production of this dopamine-derived neurotoxin.

"The goal of this research is to elucidate a mechanistic link between environmental exposure -- pesticides, for example -- and neurodegeneration relevant to PD. This work is very exciting, as it may yield new targets for therapeutic intervention or lead to ways to diagnose the disease sooner," Doorn said.