Student Research: Travis Cook
Manganese (Mn) is an essential dietary micronutrient for which excessive exposure has long been known to be neurotoxic. Historically, short-term, high-intensity exposure in occupational settings was recognized to cause acute-onset parkinsonism (PS) termed manganism. Although modern day exposures are typically several orders of magnitude lower than those necessary to cause manganism, chronic, low-level exposures are not uncommon among a number of occupations and communities. Recent epidemiologic studies have demonstrated an association between Mn exposure and risk of PS, and in this regard Mn remains a public health concern. The work described here was designed to provide insight toward questions which remain with respect to Mn exposure and its toxic effect on the brain, and includes studies utilizing Mn exposed human populations and in vitro model systems to address these objectives. Blood plasma samples obtained from a cohort of welders, whose work is recognized as generating appreciable amounts of airborne Mn, and post-mortem brain tissue of Mn mine workers were both found to have discernable alterations related to the mitochondrial chaperone protein mortalin. Furthermore, in vitro studies demonstrated that reduced astroglial expression of mortalin confers neuronal susceptibility to toxicity elicited by low levels of Mn, possibly via mechanisms of endoplasmic reticulum and oxidative stress mediated by alpha-synuclein. Taken together, the results of these studies indicate that Mn exposures experienced by modern day populations are sufficient to cause biological alterations in humans that are potentially neurotoxic.