Dystonia and Plants

The following item appeared on the ST bulletin board.

"CROET scientist, D.N. Roy, Ph.D., has isolated, purified and characterized two of several neurotoxic components from a wild plant, the Yellow Star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), which causes neurodegenerative disorders in the basal ganglia of grazing horses when they are on the plants for a prolonged period. By the application of thin-layer chromatography, infrared spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance and elemental analysis, Roy has shown the identified neurotoxic components to be the amino acids glutamate and aspartate. The compounds display excitotoxic properties in mouse cortical explant cultures of neural tissue. This newly isolated components, along with other identifiable and non-isolated components, can be used as probes to study the vulnerability of particular cell types in selected regions of the brain that degenerate in certain chemical-induced and naturally occurring neurological disorders, such as Dystonia.

"Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology

Oregon Health Sciences University
3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road L606
Portland, Oregon 97201-3098
(503) 494-4273
FAX: (503) 494-4278
Send email to: croetweb@ohsu.edu"

Chris Sivewright e-mailed the address given and got this reply:

"Chris -
"The only known association between Dystonia and food comes from China. Sugarcane contaminated with a fungus that produced a neurotoxin has been shown to be the cause of Dystonia in children who became very ill within hours of eating the mildewed sugarcane. Dystonia developed weeks after they had recovered from convulsions and coma. The effect on these children is not one of allergy; rather it is toxic effect that impacted the part of the brain that controls the quality of movement. Because this region of the brain was destroyed in these children, they developed this rare form of persistent Dystonia along with other neurological deficits.

"Confirmation that the fungal toxin was responsible for the brain damage that caused the Dystonia in Chinese children was obtained from experimental studies conducted in Beijing and in the USA.

"Since fungus will grow on many food items, there is a possibility that this type of illness might occur elsewhere. In addition, there are some poisonous plants that produce similar types of neurotoxin and, if these were eaten, there is a theoretical possibility of a comparable neurological effect. Whether these plants might turn up in a health food store has not been studied, to my knowledge.

"Other chemicals that have been rarely linked with Dystonia include cyanide [also found in certain food plants, notably cassava (manioca)], carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. In each case, one would expect the Dystonia to appear after a serious illness of the type described above.

"Finally, repeated exposure to high concentrations of manganese (purchasable in health food stores) may induce neurological changes that might appear as Dystonia or Parkinsonism.

"Please note that none of the above is to be construed as medical advice or guidance. The information is provided to you by a scientist who specializes in neurotoxicology but who does not practice medicine.

"I hope this responds to your query."

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