Connecting the Dots: The Startling Relationship Between Nanoplastics and Neurological Disorders Unveiled

November 30th, 2023

By John Patterson

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

In a groundbreaking study led by Duke University, researchers have uncovered a concerning connection between nanoplastics and neurological disorders, specifically Parkinson’s disease and certain types of dementia. Published in Science Advances on November 17, the study sheds light on the potential impact of environmental factors on human biology, urging us to reconsider our relationship with plastic and its consequences on our health.

The Urgent Wake-Up Call: Parkinson’s Disease on the Rise

“Parkinson’s disease has been called the fastest growing neurological disorder in the world,” warns Andrew West, Ph.D., the principal investigator and a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke University School of Medicine. While the influence of environmental factors on Parkinson’s disease has long been suspected, identifying these factors has proven challenging.

The Plastic Predicament: A New Toxin Challenge

Improperly disposed plastics, known to break down into microscopic particles, have infiltrated water and food supplies, even making their way into the bloodstream of most adults. The Duke-led study suggests that micro and nanoplastics in the environment pose a new toxin challenge, potentially exacerbating the risk and progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The Plastic Culprit: Polystyrene Nanoparticles

The study zooms in on polystyrene nanoparticles, commonly found in disposable items like drinking cups and cutlery. These particles, when introduced into the environment, attract the accumulation of a specific protein known as alpha-synuclein. The surprising revelation lies in the tight bonds formed between the plastic and the protein within the neuron’s lysosome, a key area where accumulations associated with Parkinson’s disease occur.


Unveiling the Connection: Three Key Models

The research employed three distinct models—test tubes, cultured neurons, and mouse models of Parkinson’s disease—demonstrating consistent plastic-protein accumulations. Despite these findings, questions linger about how these interactions manifest in humans and whether different types of plastic play varying roles in this process.

The Path Forward: Urgent Need for Evaluation

“While microplastic and nanoplastic contaminants are under scrutiny for their potential impact on cancer and autoimmune diseases, the study’s striking observations highlight the need for an urgent evaluation of increasing nanoplastic contaminants on Parkinson’s disease and dementia risk and progression,” emphasizes West. The study serves as a stark reminder that the technology to monitor nanoplastics is still in its infancy but underscores the importance of rapid advancements in this area.

Navigating the Future: Balancing Benefits and Risks

As we grapple with this newfound knowledge, West encourages a cautious approach. “If we know what to look out for, we can take the necessary steps to protect ourselves, without compromising all the benefits we reap every day from plastics.” The study prompts a collective call to action, urging us to reconsider our plastic consumption habits and the potential consequences on our neurological health.

In a world awakening to the intricate dance between nanoplastics and our well-being, the urgency to address this issue has never been more apparent. As we navigate the delicate balance between the benefits and risks of plastics, let this revelation serve as a catalyst for change in our relationship with this pervasive material.


  1. Zhiyong Liu, Arpine Sokratian, Addison M. Duda, Enquan Xu, Christina Stanhope, Amber Fu, Samuel Strader, Huizhong Li, Yuan Yuan, Benjamin G. Bobay, Joana Sipe, Ketty Bai, Iben Lundgaard, Na Liu, Belinda Hernandez, Catherine Bowes Rickman, Sara E. Miller, Andrew B. West. Anionic nanoplastic contaminants promote Parkinson’s disease–associated ?-synuclein aggregationScience Advances, 2023; 9 (46) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adi8716

About the author:

John Patterson is an avid writer and researcher who delves into the latest scientific research. With an insatiable curiosity, he translates complex concepts into accessible narratives, allowing readers to embark on a journey of discovery. Through his work, John bridges the gap between experts and the public, igniting curiosity and inspiring meaningful conversations about scientific breakthroughs.

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