Trichloroethylene: An Invisible Cause of Parkinson’s Disease?

The number of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Numerous genetic causes or risk factors for the disease have been identified, but most individuals with PD do not carry any of these mutations. Several environmental toxicants, especially certain pesticides, have also been linked to PD, and head trauma is also associated with an increased risk. However, these are insufficient to explain the widespread prevalence of PD. There must be alternate and invisible causes that we have not yet identified.

One of these may be trichloroethylene (TCE), a ubiquitous chemical that has contaminated our environment and poses health risks to those who are (often unknowingly) exposed via their work or their environment.

TCE is a simple six-atom (two carbons, one hydrogen, and three chlorines) solvent that is clear, colourless, volatile, non-flammable, and environmentally persistent. It was first synthesized in the lab in 1864, and commercial production began in the 1920s. Because of its unique properties, TCE has had countless industrial, commercial, military, and medical applications. Among these are producing other chlorinated compounds (e.g., refrigerants), cleaning electronics, and degreasing engine parts for civilian and military purposes. As it readily evaporates and does not shrink fabrics, TCE was used to dry clean clothes beginning in the 1930s. 

TCE is found in numerous consumer products (Table 1), including typewriter correction fluid, paint removers, and carpet cleaners. Until the 1970s, it was used to decaffeinate coffee. The volatile TCE was also an inhaled aesthetic until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned it in 1977.

Because TCE is lipophilic, it is TCE readily distribute in the brain and body tissues and appear to cause mitochondrial dysfunction at high doses. This may partially explain the link to PD as dopaminergic neurons are sensitive to mitochondrial neurotoxicants such as MPTP/MPP+, paraquat, and rotenone.

The institute of Functional Neuroscience is dedicated to developing and exploring new clinical applications to treat a variety of complex and difficult conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. The Institute utilises non-invasive brain stimulation to encourage neuroplastic restructuring to enhance brain function.

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Dorsey, E. Ray et al. ‘Trichloroethylene: An Invisible Cause of Parkinson’s Disease?’ 1 Jan. 2023: 203 – 218.