Fungi are important infectious disease-causing agents, but are often overlooked as environmental factors in disease. We review several lines of evidence that point to a potential fungal origin of sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most common form of motor neurone disease. Approximately 90% cases of ALS are sporadic, and the aetiology of sporadic ALS is still unknown. We have previously postulated that grass or soil-associated fungal infections may be a leading cause of sporadic ALS. Herein we extend this proposal to water-associated fungi. A wide variety of fungi have been reported in drinking water including Acremonium, Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Penicillium and Trichoderma. Some of these are known to produce neurotoxic mycotoxins. Despite this, drinking water is not routinely monitored for fungal contamination. Fungal contamination could explain the close correlation between distribution of well water and cases of sporadic ALS in the United States. We propose several mechanisms by which an opportunistic fungal infection from environmental exposure (to water, soil or plants) can lead to long term neuronal degradation resulting in the hallmarks of ALS. If confirmed, the association between fungal infection and sporadic ALS could lead to novel treatment strategies for this progressive and fatal disease.
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- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- motor neurone disease
- sporadic ALS
- well water