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Author Notes:

Corresponding Author: Kurt D. Pennell, Ph.D., P.E., Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University, 200 College Ave., Medford, MA 02155, tel: 617-627-3099, kurt.pennell@tufts.edu

Post-mortem brain samples from the Nun Study were generously provided by Dr. David Snowdon (retired) and colleagues from the University of Minnesota, and a preliminary statistical analysis was performed by Joanne Wuu, University of Miami.

Conflict of interest statement: We declare that we have no financial or personal relationships with other people or organizations that can inappropriately influence our work, there is no professional or other personal interest of any nature or kind in any product, service and/or company that could be construed as influencing the position presented in, or the review of, the manuscript.


Research Funding:

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health Mentored Quantitative Research Development Award grant K25 ES014659 (KDP), the Emory Parkinson’s disease Collaborative Environmental Research Center (PD-CERC) under grant P01 ES016731 (GWM, KDP), National Research Service Fellowship Award F30 ES014141 (JMH-M), the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center grant P50 AG025688 (AIL), and the Emory Neuroscience NINDS Core Facilities grant P30 NS055077 (AIL).


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Neurosciences
  • Pharmacology & Pharmacy
  • Toxicology
  • Neurosciences & Neurology
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Polychlorinated biphenyl
  • PCB
  • Sex
  • Exposure
  • Neurodegenerative disease
  • Mass spectrometry
  • NUN

Association between polychlorinated biphenyls and Parkinson's disease neuropathology


Journal Title:



Volume 33, Number 5


, Pages 1298-1304

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic chemicals primarily used as coolants and insulators in electrical equipment. Although banned for several decades, PCBs continue to exist in the environment because of their long half-life, continued presence in items produced before the ban, and poor disposal practices. Epidemiological and experimental studies have identified exposure to PCBs as a potential risk factor for Parkinson's disease, perhaps more so in females. The objective of this work was to examine the association between PCB levels in post-mortem human brain tissue and the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, as well as the degree of nigral depigmentation. We also sought to determine if this association was more significant when patients were stratified by sex. Post-mortem brain samples from control patients and those diagnosed with Parkinson's disease were obtained from the Emory University Brain Bank and from the Nun Study. Concentrations of eight prevalent PCB congeners were extracted from post-mortem brain tissue and analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. PCB congeners 153 and 180 were significantly elevated in the brains of Parkinson's disease patients. When stratified by sex, the female Parkinson's disease group demonstrated significantly elevated concentrations of total PCBs and specifically congeners 138, 153, and 180 compared to controls, whereas PCB concentrations in males were not significantly different between control and Parkinson's disease groups. In a separate population of women (Nun Study) who had no clinical signs or symptoms of PD, elevated concentrations total PCB and congeners 138, 153 and 180 were also observed in post-mortem brain tissue exhibiting moderate nigral depigmentation compared to subjects with mild or no depigmentation. These quantitative data demonstrate an association between brain PCB levels and Parkinson's disease-related pathology. Furthermore, these data support epidemiological and laboratory studies reporting a link between PCB exposure and an increased risk for Parkinson's disease, including greater susceptibility of females.

Copyright information:

© 2012 Elsevier Inc.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

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