Neurodegenerative processes encompass a large variety of diseases with different pathological patterns and clinical presentation such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer Disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD). Genetic mutations have a known causative role, but the majority of cases are likely to be probably caused by a complex gene-environment interaction. Exposure to metals has been hypothesized to increase oxidative stress in brain cells leading to cell death and neurodegeneration. Neurotoxicity of metals has been demonstrated by several in vitro and in vivo experimental studies and it is likely that each metal could be toxic through specific pathways.
The possible pathogenic role of different metals has been supported by some epidemiological evidences coming from occupational and ecological studies. In order to assess the possible association between metals and neurodegenerative disorders, several case-control studies have also been carried out evaluating the metals concentration in different biological specimens such as blood/serum/plasma, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), nail and hair, often reporting conflicting results.
This review provides an overview of our current knowledge on the possible association between metals and ALS, AD and PD as main neurodegenerative disorders.