Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and Gulf War illnesses – Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mar 10, 2008

[Note: acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are used in “nerve agents,” pesticides, and a pill (pyridostigmine bromide)that was administered to increase troop survival in case of nerve gas exposure They affect production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and thus signal transmission at the neuromuscular junctions and in the brain.]

Increasing evidence suggests excess illness in Persian Gulf War veterans (GWV) can be explained in part by exposure of GWV to organophosphate and carbamate acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEis), including pyridostigmine bromide (PB), pesticides, and nerve agents.

Evidence germane to the relation of AChEis to illness in GWV was assessed:


  • Many epidemiological studies reported a link between AChEi exposure and chronic symptoms in GWV.
  • The link is buttressed by a dose–response relation of PB pill number to chronic symptoms in GWV.
  • And by a relation between avidity of AChEi clearance and illness, based on genotypes, concentrations, and activity levels of enzymes that detoxify AChEis.

Triangulating evidence derives from studies linking occupational exposure to AChEis to chronic health symptoms that mirror those of ill GWV. Illness is again linked to lower activity of AChEi detoxifying enzymes and genotypes conferring less-avid AChEi detoxification.

AChEi exposure satisfies Hill’s presumptive criteria for causality, suggesting this exposure may be causally linked to excess health problems in GWV.

[Note: To read a news story on the study, titled “Health problems in Persian Gulf War veterans higher due to chemical exposure,” click here.]

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 10, 2008. [E-publication] 10.1073/pnas.0711986105, by Golomb BA, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, California, USA. [E-mail: bgolomb@ucsd.edu]

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