One of the biggest environmental problems of our time is that micro- and nano-plastic particles (MNPs) can enter the body in various ways, including through food.
Now, for the first time, a study by scientists at the Medical University of Vienna (MedUni) has shown how these microparticles were able to cross the blood-brain barrier and thus enter the brain. The newly discovered mechanism provides the basis for further research to protect people and the environment.
The study, published in the journal Nanomaterials, was conducted in an animal model of oral ingestion of micro- and nanoplastic particles, in this case polystyrene, a commonly used plastic that is also used in food packaging.
A team led by Lukas Kenner from the Department of Pathology at the Medical University of Vienna and the Department of Animal Pathology of the Vetmeduni Laboratory found small particles of polystyrene in the brains of mice just two hours after eating them. have serious consequences for human health.
And since the popularity of plastic began to rise in the 1950s, production has skyrocketed. Plastics are now ubiquitous in every aspect of everyday life, from clothing and food packaging to car tires and sunscreen.
As plastic decomposes, microplastics and nanoplastics are released into the environment.
Microplastics can be seen with the naked eye in sizes ranging from 0.001 mm to 5 mm, while nanoplastics are less than 0.001 mm.
Both enter the food chain in different ways, from fish in our oceans to plastic food packaging. One study found that a person who drinks 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day from plastic bottles ingests about 90,000 plastic particles per year.
Nanoplastics have already been found in human tissues and fluids, including blood and the placenta, but scientists warn that the presence of particles in the brain can lead to neurological disorders.
“In the brain, microplastics can increase the risk of inflammation, neurological disorders, or even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s,” Keener said, stressing the need for more research.
Research also suggests a possible link between a number of cancers and microplastics.
A study using tiny pieces of polystyrene found that only nanoplastic particles entered the brains of mice within two hours of ingestion.
The team also discovered the mechanism by which the nanoplastics cross the blood-brain barrier, an important defense against pathogens and toxins.
The blood-brain barrier is an important cellular barrier that prevents pathogens or toxins from entering the brain. The intestine has a similar protective wall (intestinal barrier) through which micro- and nanoplastic particles can also penetrate, as many scientific studies have shown.
Through the experiments, the team found that a special structure on the surface of the brain, called the biomolecular corona, is critical for the penetration of plastic particles into the brain.
“In order to minimize the potential harm of micro- and nanoplastics to humans and the environment, it is necessary to limit exposure and limit their use in further micronutrient exposure studies,” Keener said.
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