Monthly Archives: December 2013

Rutgers researchers: Mold can cause symptoms that mimic Parkinson’s

By Kathleen O’Brien,

fruit flyRutgers fungus expert Joan Bennett had always been a skeptic of “sick building syndrome” – the notion the air in a building can be so toxic it makes people sick.

Then the home she owned in New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While others would mourn their losses, Bennett got busy taking swabs of mold, intent on studying them back in New Jersey, where she and her husband had temporarily relocated.

In collecting them, however, she said she immediately felt ill, despite wearing gloves, a mask and protective gear. The dizziness, headaches and nausea she experienced made her open to the possibility that small amounts of mold can harm people.

“The odor just made me feel horrible, and I thought, ‘Aha!’ Maybe there’s something in these gasses,” said Bennett, now a professor of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers. “I became a convert.”

From that research came today’s announcement she and her colleagues had located a chemical emitted by mold that gives fruit flies the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The Rutgers study exposed fruit flies to various chemicals emitted by molds. One particular mold – dubbed “mushroom alcohol” by the Japanese scientist who isolated it in the 1930s – had an immediate impact on the fruit flies, said Arati Inamdar, the researcher at Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

The fruit flies displayed tremors, a slow gait, with postural imbalance and problems with locomotion – all consistent with the signs of Parkinson’s disease. “You can see all this on these flies that were exposed to this chemical,” she said.

Further study showed the toxic chemical is able to block two important genes that regulate dopamine – the chemical that allows nerve cells to communicate.

That finding gives doctors and pharmaceutical companies a roadmap for developing medicine to protect them. Read More