New research shows that nanoplastics—microscopic particles broken down from everyday plastic items—bind to proteins associated with Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia.
These stealthy nanoparticles have already infiltrated our soil, water, and food supply. Now, they may pose the next great toxin threat, fueling a wave of neurodegenerative disease.
Plastic Cups and Utensils Identified as Risk Factors
Polystyrene nanoparticles, commonly found in plastic cups and utensils, bind to alpha-synuclein, a protein linked to Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia, the new study from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and the Department of Chemistry at Trinity College of Arts and Sciences found. The plastic-protein accumulation was seen in test tubes, cultured neurons, and mouse models.
The most surprising finding was the tight bonds formed between the plastic and protein within neuron lysosomes, according to Andrew West, the study's principal investigator. Lysosomes are digestive organelles within cells that use enzymes to break down waste materials and cellular debris.
"Our study suggests that the emergence of micro and nanoplastics in the environment might represent a new toxin challenge with respect to Parkinson's disease risk and progression," Mr. West said in a press statement. This is especially concerning given the expected increase of these contaminants in our water and food, he added.
Growing evidence indicates that nanoplastics circulate in the air, especially indoors. When inhaled, they can travel from the respiratory tract directly to the blood and brain, increasing cancer risk.