Organic Consumers Association

More Evidence--Pesticides Cause Brain Damage

Genetic Link Found for Pesticides, ADHD, Gulf War Syndrome

Environment News Service
March 17, 2003

LA JOLLA, California, March 17, 2003 (ENS) - Supported by a
$1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, research
at the Salk Institute have identified a gene that may link certain
pesticides and chemical weapons to a number of neurological
disorders, including the Gulf War syndrome and attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The finding, published in the March 17 online version of "Nature
Genetics," is the first to demonstrate a clear genetic link between
neurological disorders and exposure to organophosphate

The gene is one that scientists had not studied in previous efforts to
find connections between these chemicals and disease.
Organophosphates include household pesticides as well as deadly
nerve gases like sarin.

The Gulf War syndrome is a "loosely defined collection of
symptoms," the researchers said, "ranging from headache and fever
to severe forgetfulness and movement disorders." It was first noted
after Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1991, when
U.S., Canadian and British military veterans reported more
symptoms than soldiers who were not deployed. Its cause is

Dr. Carrolee Barlow, who led the work at the Salk Institute and is
now at Merck and Co., Inc., and her team, headed by Christopher
Winrow, found in mice that organophosphate exposure inhibited
the activity of a gene called neuropathy target esterase, or NTE.
The gene is active in parts of the brain controlling movement - the
hippocampus, the cerebellum and the spinal cord.

This inhibition either killed the mice before birth, or led to a range
of behaviors very similar to ADHD. Some of the neurological
problems were similar to symptoms seen in Gulf War syndrome.

"This study shows that there may indeed be a genetic connection
that explains how organophosphates can cause these reactions; it's
just not what we assumed it would be," Barlow said.

"There have been anecdotal links made between rises in attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson's disease and other
disorders and exposure to pesticides," she said. "There also has
been suspicion of a link to Gulf War syndrome. But scientists have
been focusing on enzymes that act on acetylcholine

Barlow's group had originally been looking at how environmental
factors immediately affect the nervous system. They found that
mice bred to lack the NTE gene died before birth.

But the group also found that mice with only one copy of the NTE
gene, when exposed to experimental organophosphates and
examined over a prolonged period, exhibited behavior similar to
attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"NTE is a large gene," said Barlow. "It's possible that we all have
slightly different forms of the NTE enzyme, which may explain
why some may get ADHD when they're exposed at young ages,
and why some may get Gulf War syndrome at a later age, or why
some of us have no symptoms at all. It appears to be a case of
delayed toxicity, inhibiting the function of NTE."

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is an independent
nonprofit organization dedicated to fundamental discoveries in the
life sciences, the improvement of human health and conditions, and
the training of future generations of researchers. The institute was
founded in 1960 by polio vaccine discoverer Jonas Salk, M.D.,
with a gift of land from the City of San Diego and the financial
support of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.


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