New York: A new study has found that proper copper levels are essential to the health of the brain at rest.
Copper has earlier been identified as a critical ingredient in the enzymes that activate the brain's neurotransmitters in response to stimuli.
Traditionally, copper has been regarded as a mineral that must be buried within enzymes to protect against the generation of reactive oxygen species and subsequent free radical damage.
"We have shown that copper can also modulate neural activity and is essential for the normal development of synapses and circuits," explained Chris Chang, faculty chemist with US Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
Although the human brain accounts for only two percent of total body mass, it consumes 20 percent of the oxygen taken in through respiration.
This high demand for oxygen and oxidative metabolism has resulted in the brain harbouring the body's highest levels of copper, as well as iron and zinc.
Over the past few years, Chang and his research group at University of California, Berkeley have developed a series of fluorescent probes for molecular imaging of copper in the brain.
"We have been designing fluorescent probes that can map the movement of copper in live cells, tissue or even model organisms such as mice and zebra fish," Chang said.
Improper copper oxidation has been linked to several neurological disorders including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Menkes' and Wilson's.
"Whether a patient needs copper supplements depends on how much copper is present and where in the brain it is located," Chang concluded.
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.