Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis After Exposure to Manganese from Traditional Medicine Procedures in Kenya

Biol Trace Elem Res. 2021 Oct;199(10):3618-3624. doi: 10.1007/s12011-020-02501-4. Epub 2020 Nov 23.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease characterized by motor neuron loss and widespread muscular atrophy. Despite intensive investigations on genetic and environmental factors, the cause of ALS remains unknown. Recent data suggest a role for metal exposures in ALS causation. In this study we present a patient who developed ALS after a traditional medical procedure in Kenya. The procedure involved insertion of a black metal powder into several subcutaneous cuts in the lower back. Four months later, general muscle weakness developed. Clinical and electrophysiological examinations detected widespread denervation consistent with ALS. The patient died from respiratory failure less than a year after the procedure. Scanning electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction analyses identified the black powder as potassium permanganate (KMnO4). A causative relationship between the systemic exposure to KMnO4 and ALS development can be suspected, especially as manganese is a well-known neurotoxicant previously found to be elevated in cerebrospinal fluid from ALS patients. Manganese neurotoxicity and exposure routes conveying this toxicity deserve further attention.

Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Manganese; Neurodegeneration; Potassium permanganate; Traditional medicine.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Manganese
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases*


  • Manganese