Bumoko GM, Sadiki NH, Rwatambuga A, Kayembe KP, Okitundu DL, Mumba Ngoyi D, Muyembe JJ, Banea JP, Boivin MJ, Tshala-Katumbay D.


We assessed the relationship between key trace elements and neurocognitive and motor impairments observed in konzo, a motor neuron disease associated with cassava cyanogenic exposure in nutritionally challenged African children. Serum concentrations of iron, copper, zinc, selenium, and neurotoxic lead, mercury, manganese, cadmium, and cobalt were measured in 123 konzo children (mean age 8.53years) and 87 non-konzo children (mean age 9.07years) using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS). Concentrations of trace elements were compared and related to performance scores on the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children, 2nd edition (KABC-II) for cognition and Bruininks-Oseretsky Test, 2nd edition (BOT-2) for motor proficiency. Children with konzo had low levels of selenium, copper, and zinc relative to controls. Selenium concentration significantly correlated with serum 8,12-iso-iPF-VI isoprostane (Spearman r=0.75, p<0.01) and BOT-2 scores (r=0.31, p=0.00) in children with konzo. Elemental deficiency was not associated with poor cognition. Mean (SD) urinary level of thiocyanate was 388.03 (221.75) μmol/l in non-konzo compared to 518.59 (354.19) μmol/l in konzo children (p<0.01). Motor deficits associated with konzo may possibly be driven by the combined effects of cyanide toxicity and Se deficiency on prooxidant mechanisms. Strategies to prevent konzo may include dietary supplementation with trace elements, preferentially, those with antioxidant and cyanide-scavenging properties.

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