Nanoplastics, small pieces of plastic, were found to interact with a protein in the brain linked to Parkinson’s disease and dementia. The study, led by Duke University researchers, suggests that improperly disposed plastics can break into very small pieces, accumulate in water and food supplies, and may pose a risk for neurological disorders. The plastic polystyrene, commonly found in single-use items like disposable cups and cutlery, was shown to attract the accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein. This interaction was observed in test tubes, cultured neurons, and mouse models of Parkinson’s disease.

The study raises concerns about the increasing presence of nanoplastic contaminants in the environment and their potential impact on neurological disorders. The technology to monitor nanoplastics is still in the early stages, but researchers hope that efforts in this area will increase rapidly. The study was funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s initiative.

The researchers hope that understanding the interaction between nanoplastics and brain proteins will help protect against the potential health risks while still benefiting from the convenience of plastics.

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