Trace elements in scalp hair samples from patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 9;10(4):e0122142. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122142. eCollection 2015.


Background: Epidemiological studies have suggested a possible role of trace elements (TE) in the etiology of several neurological diseases including Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Hair analysis provides an easy tool to quantify TE in human subjects, including patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Objective: To compare TE levels in scalp hair from patients with MS and healthy controls from the same geographic area (Sicily).

Methods: ICP-MS was used to determine the concentrations of 21 elements (Ag, Al, As, Ba, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Fe, Li, Mn, Mo, Ni, Pb, Rb, Sb, Se, Sr, U, V and Zn) in scalp hair of 48 patients with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis compared with 51 healthy controls.

Results: MS patients showed a significantly lower hair concentration of aluminum and rubidium (median values: Al = 3.76 μg/g vs. 4.49 μg/g and Rb = 0.007 μg/g vs. 0.01 μg/g;) and higher hair concentration of U (median values U: 0.014 μg/g vs. 0.007 μg/g) compared to healthy controls. The percentages of MS patients showing hair elemental concentrations greater than the 95th percentile of controls were 20% for Ni, 19% for Ba and U, and 15% for Ag, Mo and Se. Conversely, the percentages of MS patients showing hair elemental concentrations lower than the 5th percentile of healthy controls were 27% for Al, 25% for Rb, 22% for Ag, 19% for Fe, and 16% for Pb. No significant association was found between levels of each TE and age, disease duration or Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score. After stratification by gender, healthy subjects did not show any significant difference in trace element levels, while MS patients showed significant differences (p<0.01) for the concentrations of Ag, Cr, Fe, Ni and Sr. No significant differences were also found, at p<0.01, in relation to the use of cigarettes, consume of water, vegetables and place of living.

Conclusion: The different distributions of TE in hair of MS patients compared to controls provides an additional indirect evidence of metabolic imbalance of chemical elements in the pathogenesis of this disease. The increase in U and decrease in Al and Rb levels in MS compared to controls require further assessments as well as the observed different distributions of other elements.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aluminum / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Hair / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / metabolism*
  • Rubidium / metabolism
  • Scalp / chemistry
  • Scalp / metabolism*
  • Trace Elements / metabolism*
  • Uranium / metabolism


  • Trace Elements
  • Uranium
  • Aluminum
  • Rubidium

Grants and funding

These authors have no support or funding to report.