Biogenic metallic elements in the human brain?

James Everett, Frederik Lermyte, Jake Brooks, Vindy Tjendana-Tjhin, Germán Plascencia-Villa, Ian Hands-Portman, Jane M. Donnelly, Kharmen Billimoria, George Perry, Xiongwei Zhu, Peter J. Sadler, Peter B. O’Connor, Joanna F. Collingwood and Neil D. Telling

Science Advances  09 Jun 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 24, eabf6707
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf6707


The chemistry of copper and iron plays a critical role in normal brain function. A variety of enzymes and proteins containing positively charged Cu+, Cu2+, Fe2+, and Fe3+ control key processes, catalyzing oxidative metabolism and neurotransmitter and neuropeptide production. Here, we report the discovery of elemental (zero–oxidation state) metallic Cu0 accompanying ferromagnetic elemental Fe0 in the human brain. These nanoscale biometal deposits were identified within amyloid plaque cores isolated from Alzheimer’s disease subjects, using synchrotron x-ray spectromicroscopy. The surfaces of nanodeposits of metallic copper and iron are highly reactive, with distinctly different chemical and magnetic properties from their predominant oxide counterparts. The discovery of metals in their elemental form in the brain raises new questions regarding their generation and their role in neurochemistry, neurobiology, and the etiology of neurodegenerative disease.