Mold chemical linked to movement disorder

A mold-made chemical can cause Parkinson’s-like changes in the brains of fruit flies.

Thomas Wydra/Wikimedia Commons

The compound that gives mold its musty smell can cause changes in fruit flies’ brains that mimic those of patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Scientists do not know the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease, but studies have shown that exposure to human-made chemicals may be a risk factor for developing the movement disorder.

Now researchers have found that the chemical 1-octen-3-ol, which mold naturally emits, kills flies’ brain cells that transmit dopamine, a compound involved in controlling movement. The mold molecule also reduces dopamine levels in the flies’ brains. In experiments with human cells, the mold chemical also blocked the cells from taking in dopamine, researchers report November 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The results offer insight into cases of movement problems that doctors have associated with fungi exposure, the scientists say.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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