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Microplastics can Trigger Brain Inflammation and are Found in Heart Tissues
Microplastics, tiny particles measuring less than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) in width, have garnered increasing attention due to their pervasive presence – from the peaks of Mount Everest to the depths of the oceans. It’s no surprise then that these microplastics have found their way into our internal organs, including via ingestion through the environment.
Two recent studies have delved into the effects of microplastics on our health. One study reveals that microplastics can induce brain inflammation, while the other demonstrates their presence within the completely enclosed organ, the heart.
Despite their small size, microplastics have become a global issue, leaving traces in environments ranging from mountaintops to ocean depths. Consequently, their presence within our visceral organs is hardly unexpected.
Recent investigations have probed the occurrence of microplastics within organs and their potential impacts.
The first study, conducted by researchers at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in South Korea, explored the effects of ingested weathered microplastics on rat brains.
The second study, carried out by researchers from the Beijing Capital Medical University in China, examined the presence of microplastics in the heart and blood before and after surgery.
The DGIST study focused on the toxicity of weathered microplastics, which naturally degrade under ultraviolet (UV) radiation and wind action.
Previous research has indicated that microplastics can enter various organisms, including humans, so researchers aimed to understand whether these particles could have detrimental effects on the brain.
Weathering processes like sunlight, air, heat, rain, and wind alter the physical and chemical characteristics of microplastics.
For instance, UV exposure triggers reactions leading to the formation of free radicals, causing plastic to fragment into even smaller particles known as secondary microplastics.
However, limited knowledge exists about the exact biological effects of weathered microplastics.
Researchers artificially created secondary microplastics by subjecting fragmented microplastics to UV exposure and physical stress for seven days, simulating natural weathering processes.
They orally administered weathered microplastics (100 micrometers or smaller) to rats once a day for seven consecutive days, while another group of rats was fed non-weathered microplastics.
Comparing with the control group, rats exposed to weathered microplastics exhibited significantly increased expression of inflammation-related proteins linked to neurodegeneration and cell death, along with reduced pro-inflammatory proteins in external brain tissue.
Experimenting with a human glial cell line (cells regulating brain inflammation), researchers found that weathered microplastics stimulated an inflammatory response in these cells.
The findings suggest that weathered microplastics are more toxic than non-weathered ones, according to the researchers.
Seong-Kyoon Choi, the lead author of the study, stated, “Through proteomic analysis, we discovered for the first time that plastic leaked into the environment undergoes accelerated weathering and becomes secondary microplastics with neurotoxic potential, leading to increased inflammation and cell death in the brain. The worrisome aspect of microplastic toxicity is accentuated by the fact that secondary microplastics present in the natural environment could induce more severe inflammatory reactions in the brain.”
The DGIST study highlights the harmful effects of ingested microplastics.
However, a question remains: can microplastics infiltrate our most internal organs, like the heart, which isn’t directly exposed to the environment?
The Beijing Capital Medical University study suggests the answer is affirmative.
In this study, researchers collected heart samples from 15 individuals undergoing heart surgery, as well as blood samples from 7 participants before and after surgery. Utilizing laser direct infrared imaging, they identified microplastics in the heart and surrounding tissues.
While not present in all tissue samples, microplastics were found in five types of heart tissues, encompassing nine types of microplastics ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers in width. Nine types of microplastics were also detected in both pre- and post-surgery blood samples.
These plastics included polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyurethane (PU), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polycarbonate (PC), polypropylene (PP), polyamide (PA), polystyrene (PS), and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). Polyethylene terephthalate had the highest content (77%) in tissue samples, while PA (49%) and PET (22%) were most common in blood samples.
Countless individual microplastic fragments were observed in most tissue samples, though the quantity and types varied among participants. All blood samples, both pre- and post-surgery, contained different types of plastic particles, with their average size decreasing post-surgery.
The researchers suggested their study provides preliminary evidence that microplastics can accumulate in the heart despite being enveloped by blood.
(source:internet, reference only)