The western Pacific parkinsonism-dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis complex is a prototypical neurodegenerative disorder found among inhabitants of Guam, New Guinea (Irian Jaya, Indonesia) and Japan (Kii Peninsula, Honshu). Nonviral environmental factors peculiar to the affected populations seem to play a prominent etiologic role. Although cause-effect relationships cannot be established by epidemiologic studies alone, we have shown in all three affected population groups that individuals develop the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis variant of this disorder after heavy exposure to the raw or incompletely detoxified seed of neurotoxic cycad plants. Since long periods may elapse between cycad exposure and the appearance of neurological disease in humans, cycads may harbor a “slow toxin” that causes the postmitotic neuron to undergo slow irreversible degeneration. Two cycad neurotoxins are recognized, one of which (cycasin) is known to have long-latency effects (tumorigenesis) on mitotic neurons and replicating cells in other tissues. This paper explores the possible relationship between tumorigenesis and long-latency neurotoxicity, and discusses possible biologic markers of cycad exposure and subclinical neurodegenerative disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology