Chemical Contamination in Humans and Links to Neurodegenerative Diseases

October 2023
The University of Queensland

This project aims to advance our understanding of the accumulation and distribution patterns of chemical contaminants, focusing on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and plastic additives, within the human brain. Additionally, we seek to identify potential links between chemical exposures and neurodegenerative diseases.

Despite the protective mechanism of the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB), designed to shield the brain from harmful substances, emerging evidence suggests that certain chemicals may breach this barrier and enter the brain. Our research endeavours to reveal the mechanisms by which these chemicals cross the barrier and to identify the key chemical properties that influence their passage between the bloodstream and the brain.

Another key aim is to explore the potential role of chemical exposures as a cause of neurodegenerative diseases, specifically Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and Motor Neurone Disease (MND). The exact causes of PD and MND remain unclear, but a growing body of evidence suggests that chemical exposure may be a significant contributor. Our research focuses on identifying areas and communities that have a high concentration of PD and MND and clarifying whether major chemical exposures occur in these areas. If so, this could indicate that exposure to certain contaminants may potentially trigger the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.

This project will shed light on the potential risks posed by chemical contaminants to human brain health. This project is supported by the Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and the Minderoo Foundation.


The preliminary data on PFAS concentrations in matched brain and blood samples indicate that individual PFAS compounds exhibit a varying ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Moreover, it has been suggested that the chemicals' ability to dissolve in fats, oils, and lipids (lipophilicity) may play a crucial role in determining the extent to which each PFAS compound penetrates the brain. While factors such as molecular weight and protein binding affinity can influence BBB permeability for substances, our findings suggest that, for PFAS, lipophilicity will be a critical consideration in assessing risks to the brain.


Project members

Marina Suzuki

PhD Candidate (Minderoo Centre)

Prof Jochen Mueller

Theme Leader, Emerging Environmental Health Risks

Dr Xianyu (Fisher) Wang

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Sandra Nilsson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr Ian Zammit

Research Fellow