New research has suggested that a compound often exuded by fungus could be linked to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The investigators say Parkinson’s has previously been linked to exposure of human-made toxins, but their findings show that biological compounds also have the potential to set off symptoms of the condition.

Through the use of fruit flies and human cell lines, researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey and Emory University in Georgia found that a compound emitted by mold, called 1-octen-3-ol but more commonly known as mushroom alcohol, may be linked to defects in two genes involved in the creation and transportation of dopamine.

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Researchers say a compound often emitted by mold, called 1-octen-3-ol, may be linked to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dopamine is a chemical that is released by nerve cells to send messages to cells situated in the brain.

When these dopamine-releasing nerve cells die, lack of dopamine causes parts of the brain to become abnormal, leading to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, up to 1 million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease and around 60,000 people in the US are diagnosed with the condition every day, emphasizing the importance of determining the triggers of this disease.

Co-author of the study Joan Bennett, of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, says the idea that fungus may play a part in causing illness stemmed from a personal experience of house flooding following Hurricane Katrina, which left her property infested with mold.

“I felt horrible – headaches, dizziness, nausea. I knew something about ‘sick building syndrome’ but until then I didn’t believe in it. I didn’t think it would be possible to breathe in enough mold spores to get sick,” she says.

Bennett took samples of the mold and looked to determine the connection between the symptoms she experienced in her home and the fungus.

When fruit flies were exposed to the fungus samples, it was found that the 1-octen-3-ol compound caused the flies to experience movement disorders similar to what they experience in certain pesticides.

The fungus compound also caused reduced dopamine levels and dopamine neuron degeneration in the flies.

Further experiments in human cell lines revealed that the compound attacked two genes involved in the creation of dopamine – the human plasma membrane dopamine transporter (DAT) and the human VMAT ortholog (VMAT2).

The researchers note that previous studies have suggested the incidence of Parkinson’s disease is on the increase in rural areas, and this is attributed to pesticide exposure.

But they say rural environments also have a great deal of mold and mushroom exposure, therefore the link between fungus and Parkinson’s disease needs to be investigated further.

Arati Inamdar, also from the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University and co-author of the study, adds:

Our work suggests that 1-octen-3-ol might also be connected to the disease, particularly for people with a genetic susceptibility to it. We’ve given the epidemiologists some new avenues to explore.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that a particular nervous system protein tends to build up at a higher level under the skin in patients who have Parkinson’s disease, which researchers say could provide an important clue to the diagnosis of the disease.