A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Agent Orange Effects Echo Alzheimer’s


The herbicide damages brain tissue in rats in ways similar to the neurodegenerative disease.

Agent Orange, an herbicide used during the Vietnam War, is a known toxin with wide-ranging health effects. Even though Agent Orange has not been used for decades, there is increasing interest in its effects on the brain health of aging veterans. A new study by scientists at Brown University reveals the mechanisms by which Agent Orange affects the brain and how those processes can lead to neurodegenerative diseases.

The research shows that exposures to Agent Orange herbicidal chemicals damage frontal lobe brain tissue of laboratory rats with molecular and biochemical abnormalities that are similar to those found in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. An early online version of this paper detailing the findings was published on Feb. 13 and is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The findings could have important implications for military veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, says study author Suzanne M. De La Monte, MD, MPH, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of neurosurgery.

“If we can show that prior exposure to Agent Orange leads to subsequent neurodegenerative disease, then that gives veterans a chance to get help,” she says.

But the study’s findings have much broader significance, she adds, because the toxins in Agent Orange are also present in lawn fertilizers.

“These chemicals don’t just affect veterans; they affect our entire population,” De La Monte says.

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