The Role of Environmental Exposures in Neurodegeneration and Neurodegenerative Diseases

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Neurodegeneration describes the loss of neuronal structure and function. Numerous neurodegenerative diseases are associated with neurodegeneration. Many are rare and stem from purely genetic causes. However, the prevalence of major neurodegenerative diseases is increasing with improvements in treating major diseases such as cancers and cardiovascular diseases, resulting in an aging population. The neurological consequences of neurodegeneration in patients can have devastating effects on mental and physical functioning. The causes of most cases of prevalent neurodegenerative diseases are unknown. The role of neurotoxicant exposures in neurodegenerative disease has long been suspected, with much effort devoted to identifying causative agents. However, causative factors for a significant number of cases have yet to be identified. In this review, the role of environmental neurotoxicant exposures on neurodegeneration in selected major neurodegenerative diseases is discussed. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were chosen because of available data on environmental influences. The special sensitivity the nervous system exhibits to toxicant exposure and unifying mechanisms of neurodegeneration are explored.

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