Pondering clues to MND in cycad plant toxicity paper

A well-known association between the toxic properties of the cycad plant and some neurological disorders may have further learnings for researchers studying some forms of motor neurone disease (MND).

An article by distinguished neuroscientist Emeritus Professor Byron Kakulas AO of WA’s Perron Institute considers comparisons between MND and similar degenerative disorders endemic on Guam.

In years past, the Chamorro people of the island were in the habit of drinking a concoction of the Cycad nut as a “tea”, enjoyed as a stimulant. However, their detoxification process proved inadequate and the disorders developed after many years of ‘incubation’.  

Chamorros have also been exposed to cycad toxicity through consumption of cycad flour and  animals which forage on cycad seeds. 

Why the neurodegeneration manifested clinically after a long delay of so many years is a key question, according to Professor Kakulas.  

“A similar enigma pertains to classical motor neurone disease and the form known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in the sense that underlying genetic factors are necessarily present from conception onward, yet the clinical disease does not develop until adult life, at the age of 50 years or more.  

“This long ‘incubation’ suggests a complex pathogenesis possibly initiated by environmental factors contributing to the neuronal degeneration. 

“The burning question in MND/ALS research concerns the aetiology (causes) and pathogenesis (disease processes).  

“Certain comparisons between MND/ALS and the Guamanian ALS/Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia Complex may provide some clues as there are strong parallels, particularly their very long incubation.. 

“This link is worthy of further investigation,” Professor Kakulas said, in his article published as a Letter to the Editor in the Journal of Neurology and Experimental Neuroscience 

Byron Kakulas Perron Institute 2021