Evidence conflicts on iron’s role in Parkinson’s disease | Science News

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Evidence conflicts on iron’s role in Parkinson’s disease

Researchers debate whether too much or too little of heavy metal in the brain raises risk

By
9:00am, May 2, 2016
nerve cells affected by iron levels in the brain

RISK FACTOR  Pigmented nerve cells (black U-shape, center) in the human brain die in Parkinson’s disease, destruction that may be affected by iron levels.  

Iron, says aging expert Naftali Raz, is like the Force. It can be good or bad, depending on the context. When that context is the human brain, though, scientists wrangle over whether iron is a dark force for evil or a bright source of support.

Some iron is absolutely essential for the brain. On that, scientists agree. But recent studies suggest to some researchers that too much iron, and the chemical reactions that ensue, can be dangerous or deadly, especially to nerve cells in the vulnerable brain area that deteriorates with Parkinson’s disease. Yet other work raises the possibility that those cells die because of lack of iron, rather than too much.

“There are a lot of surprises in this field,” says iron biologist Nancy Andrews of Duke University.

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