Over 20 different metallic elements are known to be essential to support and maintain life processes in human beings

Metallochemistry of neurodegeneration: biological, chemical and genetic aspects  

H Kozlowski, G Valensin and D R Brown 

Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry | 2006 | 281pp | ?89.95 (HB) | ISBN 9780854043606  

Reviewed by Dennis Rouvray

Over 20 different metallic elements are known to be essential to support and maintain life processes in human beings. Some of these metals we have been aware of for centuries (for example, the presence of iron in the blood) whereas our knowledge of others is comparatively recent (such as the role of copper in brain function). The amount of each metal present must fall within strictly defined limits if the body is to function optimally. An overdose of such a metal will usually be toxic and could bring about a total breakdown of body chemistry. In the case of the non-essential metals the situation is even more critical, for instance the ingestion of plutonium even in minute quantities can have serious consequences. 

Over the past quarter of a century our understanding of the manifold roles played by metals in living organisms has grown by leaps ands bounds and this has spawned the new discipline of biological inorganic chemistry or bioinorganic chemistry for short. This rapidly developing discipline has now splintered into a number of subdisciplines, among which is metalloneurochemistry - the subject of this book. 

Metalloneurochemistry covers the study of metal ions involved in any way with the functioning of the brain or nervous system. Neurodegenerative disorders, such as those occurring in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or prion diseases, have three principal causes: protein misfolding, oxidative stress and the toxicity of metals in the body. 

This book sets itself the task of elucidating the behaviour of proteins in the brain, in particular exploring the joint impacts of metal ions and oxidative stress on protein folding. The level is appropriate primarily for research workers in the field although I feel that most chemists should be able to read this work with profit. 

Although this book is scientifically sound and surprisingly wide-ranging in its coverage, it is not well written and badly in need of language editing. Moreover, the authors make the false claim that getting to grips with neurodegenerative diseases is the leading challenge of the sciences associated with the quality of life in the 21st century. This dubious honour has unfortunately already been conferred on the study of obesity and its many concomitant diseases. Even with its evident shortcomings, however, this work represents a worthwhile addition to the rather sparse literature on the subject.