Elijah W Stommel

Dartmouth–Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire, United States

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Publications (19)54.12 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease with a lifetime risk of developing as 1 in 700. Despite many recent discoveries about the genetics of ALS, the etiology of sporadic ALS remains largely unknown with gene-environment interaction suspected as a driver. Water quality and the toxin beta methyl-amino-alanine produced by cyanobacteria are suspected environmental triggers. Our objective was to develop an eco-epidemiological modeling approach to characterize the spatial relationships between areas of higher than expected ALS incidence and lake water quality risk factors derived from satellite remote sensing as a surrogate marker of exposure. Our eco-epidemiological modeling approach began with implementing a spatial clustering analysis that was informed by local indicators of spatial autocorrelation to identify locations of normalized excess ALS counts at the census tract level across northern New England. Next, water quality data for all lakes over 6 hectares (n = 4,453) were generated using Landsat TM band ratio regression techniques calibrated with in situ lake sampling. Derived lake water quality risk maps included chlorophyll-a (Chl-a), Secchi depth (SD), and total nitrogen (TN). Finally, a spatially-aware logistic regression modeling approach was executed characterizing relationships between the derived lake water quality metrics and ALS hot spots. Several distinct ALS hot spots were identified across the region. Remotely sensed lake water quality indicators were successfully derived; adjusted R2 values ranged between 0.62-0.88 for these indicators based on out-of-sample validation. Map products derived from these indicators represent the first wall-to-wall metrics of lake water quality across the region. Logistic regression modeling of ALS case membership in localized hot spots across the region, i.e., census tracts with higher than expected ALS counts, showed the following: increasing average SD within a radius of 30 km corresponds with a decrease in the odds of belonging to an ALS hot spot by 59%; increasing average TN within a radius of 30 km and average Chl-a concentration within a radius of 10 km correspond with increased odds of belonging to an ALS hot spot by 167% and 4%, respectively. The strengths of satellite remote sensing information can help overcome traditional field limitations and spatiotemporal data gaps to provide the public health community valuable exposure data. Geographic scale needs to be diligently considered when evaluating relationships among ecological processes, risk factors, and human health outcomes. Broadly, we found that poorer lake water quality was significantly associated with increased odds of belonging to an ALS cluster in the region. These findings support the hypothesis that sporadic ALS (sALS) can, in part, be triggered by environmental water-quality indicators and lake conditions that promote harmful algal blooms.
    International Journal of Health Geographics 01/2014; 13(1):1. · 2.62 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: An environmental trigger of sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is supported by geographic disparities in ALS incidence and development of the disease in conjugal couples. This study aims to investigate the incidence of ALS in the Northern New England states of New Hampshire (NH), Vermont (VT), and Maine (ME). We reviewed medical records and community databases to identify dwelling addresses of 688 patients diagnosed with ALS in 1997-2009 in NH, VT, and ME. We used spatial analysis to identify clusters of census block groups with statistically significant high incidence. We identified 11 clusters of statistically significant high incidence, each containing 6 or more cases of ALS. These 11 clusters are grouped in 4 distinct regions. There appear to be areas of significant spatial clustering within Northern New England. Further analysis will be needed to confirm whether there is any correlation between these areas and potential environmental risk factors. Muscle Nerve, 48: 235-241, 2013.
    Muscle & Nerve 08/2013; 48(2):235-41. · 2.31 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Most amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases occur sporadically. Some environmental triggers have been implicated, including beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), a cyanobacteriaproduced neurotoxin. This study aimed to identify environmental risk factors common to three sporadic ALS patients who lived in Annapolis, Maryland, USA and developed the disease within a relatively short time and within close proximity to each other. A questionnaire was used to identify potential risk factors for ALS among the cohort of patients. One common factor among the ALS patients was the frequent consumption of blue crab. Samples of blue crab from the patients' local fish market were tested for BMAA using LC-MS/MS. BMAA was identified in these Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. We conclude that the presence of BMAA in the Chesapeake Bay food web and the lifetime consumption of blue crab contaminated with BMAA may be a common risk factor for sporadic ALS in all three patients.
    Toxicon 05/2013; · 2.92 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: There is a broad scientific consensus that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is caused by gene-environment interactions. Mutations in genes underlying familial ALS (fALS) have been discovered in only 5-10% of the total population of ALS patients. Relatively little attention has been paid to environmental and lifestyle factors that may trigger the cascade of motor neuron death leading to the syndrome of ALS, although exposure to chemicals including lead and pesticides, and to agricultural environments, smoking, certain sports, and trauma have all been identified with an increased risk of ALS. There is a need for research to quantify the relative roles of each of the identified risk factors for ALS. Recent evidence has strengthened the theory that chronic environmental exposure to the neurotoxic amino acid β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) produced by cyanobacteria may be an environmental risk factor for ALS. Here we describe methods that may be used to assess exposure to cyanobacteria, and hence potentially to BMAA, namely an epidemiologic questionnaire and direct and indirect methods for estimating the cyanobacterial load in ecosystems. Rigorous epidemiologic studies could determine the risks associated with exposure to cyanobacteria, and if combined with genetic analysis of ALS cases and controls could reveal etiologically important gene-environment interactions in genetically vulnerable individuals.
    Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal degeneration. 01/2013;
  • Elijah W Stommel, Nicholas C Field, Tracie A Caller
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    ABSTRACT: Sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (sALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease with no known cause. There are many clues to suggest an environmental trigger for the disease, including reports of conjugal couples and co-localized employees that developed sALS. On the island of Guam,a very high incidence of sALS occurred among the Chamorro natives back in the 1940s and 1950s and has been linked to the neurotoxin beta-N-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) that is produced by cyanobacteria that live symbiotically in the roots of the cycad plant, the seeds from which were a staple of the Chamorro diet. It has been shown that BMAA was biomagnified up the food chain from the cycad seeds to the now largely extinct, indigenous flying foxes, a former delicacy of the Chamorro natives. Recent evidence suggests that long term, chronic exposure to low levels of BMAA might cause ALS in genetically predisposed individuals. Many exposure routes to BMAA have been implicated thus far, including consumption of contaminated food and exposure to water harboring cyanobacterial blooms which have the capability of producing BMAA. Aerosolization is a well documented means for bacterial or toxin exposure causing subsequent illness, as in the case of brevetoxins and pulmonary disease and Legionnaire's disease. We hypothesize that some cases of ALS may be related to chronic exposure to the aerosolization of cyanobacteria derived BMAA from cooling towers and might explain the observation of conjugal ALS couples.
    Medical Hypotheses 12/2012; · 1.18 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: A 57-year-old woman with a history of hypertension and hypothyroidism presented with painless left arm weakness and numbness 2 weeks before evaluation. Nerve conduction studies of the left arm revealed normal motor and sensory responses. Needle examination revealed acute denervation changes in all myotomes of the affected extremity, including cervical paraspinals on the left, and several myotomes on the contralateral side. The laboratory evaluation revealed normal anti-GM1 antibodies and 3 IgM/5 IgG bands on Lyme Western Blot. The patient began treatment with 28 days of intravenous ceftriaxone. On follow-up, patient had regained full strength of her extremities with no sensory deficits. Inflammatory borrelia radiculitis usually presents with pain in the distribution of the affected nerves and nerve roots. The novelty of this case report rests on (1) the absence of primary borreliosis symptomatology preceding the radiculitis and (2) the painless and bilateral clinical presentation in a patient with suspected Lyme radiculitis.
    Journal of clinical neuromuscular disease 12/2012; 14(2):75-7.
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    ABSTRACT: Limiting excessive production of inflammatory mediators is an effective therapeutic strategy for many diseases. It's also a promising remedy for neurodegenerative diseases and central nervous system (CNS) injuries. Glucocorticoids are valuable anti-inflammatory agents, but their use is constrained by adverse side-effects. Activators of NF-E2-related factor-2 (Nrf2) signaling represent an attractive anti-inflammatory alternative. In this study, dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid, and several molecular activators of Nrf2 were evaluated for efficacy in slices of cerebral cortex derived from adult SJL/J mice. Cortical explants increased expression of IL-1β and TNF-α mRNAs in culture within 5 h of sectioning. This expression was inhibited with dexamethasone in the explant medium or injected systemically in mice before sectioning. Semi-synthetic triterpenoid (SST) derivatives, potent activators of the Nrf2 pathway, demonstrated fast-acting anti-inflammatory activity in microglia cultures, but not in the cortical slice system. Quercetin, luteolin, and dimethyl fumarate were also evaluated as molecular activators of Nrf2. While expression of inflammatory mediators in microglia cultures was inhibited, these compounds did not demonstrate anti-inflammatory efficacy in cortical slices. In conclusion, brain slices were amenable to pharmacological modification as demonstrated by anti-inflammatory activity with dexamethasone. The utilization of Nrf2 activators to limit inflammatory mediators within the CNS requires further investigation. Inactivity in CNS tissue, however, suggests their safe use without neurological side-effects in treating non-CNS disorders. Short-term CNS explants may provide a more accurate model of in vivo conditions than microglia cultures since the complex tissue microenvironment is maintained.
    Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology 03/2012; 7(1):266-78. · 3.80 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative syndrome which has no known cause, except for a small proportion of cases which are genetically inherited. The development of ALS likely involves both genetic and environmental risk factors. Environmental risk factors implicated in ALS have included heavy metals, trauma, pesticides, electrical injuries, electromagnetic radiation and the cyanobacterial-derived neurotoxin beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). To investigate possible environmental risks, a number of epidemiological studies of ALS have been conducted. Some of these studies employ spatial analysis techniques that examine for spatial clusters of ALS and can help guide further research into identifying environmental exposures. Despite identifying geographical disparities in the distribution of ALS cases, these studies have not provided any clear associations with environmental factors. We review the literature on important studies of spatial clustering of ALS and explore the hypothesized link between the neurotoxin BMAA and ALS.
    Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 01/2012; 13(1):25-32. · 3.40 Impact Factor
  • Nicholas C Field, Tracie A Caller, Elijah W Stommel
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    ABSTRACT: There is evidence showing abnormalities in collagen from the skin of patients with sporadic Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (sALS) both from Guam and elsewhere. The non-proteinogenic amino acid beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) was first associated with the high incidence of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/Parkinsonism Dementia Complex (ALS/PDC) in Guam, and has been implicated as a potential environmental factor in ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. BMAA has a number of toxic effects on motor neurons including direct agonist action on NMDA and AMPA receptors, induction of oxidative stress, and depletion of glutathione. As a non-proteinogenic amino acid, there is also the strong possibility that BMAA could cause intraneuronal protein misfolding, the hallmark of neurodegeneration. While an animal model for BMAA-induced ALS is lacking, there is substantial evidence to support a link between this toxin and ALS. We hypothesize that the abnormalities seen in sALS collagen may result from the misincorporation of BMAA and subsequent misfolding of the collagen protein.
    Medical Hypotheses 07/2011; 77(4):565-7. · 1.18 Impact Factor
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    Sandra Anne Banack, Tracie A Caller, Elijah W Stommel
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    ABSTRACT: There is mounting evidence to suggest that environmental factors play a major role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases like ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). The non-protein amino acid beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) was first associated with the high incidence of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/Parkinsonism Dementia Complex (ALS/PDC) in Guam, and has been implicated as a potential environmental factor in ALS, Alzheimer's disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases. BMAA has a number of toxic effects on motor neurons including direct agonist action on NMDA and AMPA receptors, induction of oxidative stress, and depletion of glutathione. As a non-protein amino acid, there is also the strong possibility that BMAA could cause intraneuronal protein misfolding, the hallmark of neurodegeneration. While an animal model for BMAA-induced ALS is lacking, there is substantial evidence to support a link between this toxin and ALS. The ramifications of discovering an environmental trigger for ALS are enormous. In this article, we discuss the history, ecology, pharmacology and clinical ramifications of this ubiquitous, cyanobacteria-derived toxin.
    Toxins 12/2010; 2(12):2837-50. · 2.13 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Neuroinflammation through the cytokine, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) is thought to play an important role in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We conducted a preliminary phase II trial of thalidomide, which reduces levels of TNF-alpha pre-transcriptionally and post-transcriptionally in vivo and has been shown to prolong disease duration and extend the lifespan of transgenic animal models of ALS. Patients who met diagnostic criteria for ALS received thalidomide at escalating doses to a target dose of 400 mg/day. The primary endpoints in the trial were the ALS Functional Rating Scale (ALSFRS) and pulmonary function testing (PFT) curves after nine months of thalidomide treatment that were compared to historical controls. Secondary endpoints were: survival stratified for newly diagnosed and progressive disease, toxicity, quality of life, and serum cytokine measurements. Twenty-three patients were enrolled, but only 18 were evaluable for the primary outcome. There was no improvement in the ALSFRS or PFT compared to historical controls. Thalidomide had several side-effects in our ALS patients. There was no significant shift in cytokine profile after treatment compared to baseline. In conclusion, treatment of ALS with the TNF-alpha inhibitor, thalidomide, does not appear to effectively modulate disease progression and can cause adverse effects.
    Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 01/2009; 10(5-6):393-404. · 3.40 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Cyanobacteria produce many neurotoxins including beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) that has been liked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and neurodegenerative disease. A number of ALS cases have been diagnosed among residents of Enfield, NH, a town encompassing a lake with a history of cyanobacteria algal blooms. To investigate an association between toxic cyanobacterial blooms in New Hampshire and development of ALS, we reviewed records from our institution and other community databases to obtain demographic information on patients diagnosed with ALS within New England. We identified nine ALS patients who lived near Lake Mascoma in Enfield, NH, an incidence of sporadic ALS that is 10 to 25 times the expected incidence of 2/100,000/year. We suggest that the high incidence of ALS in this potential cluster could be directly related to chronic exposure to cyanobacterial neurotoxins such as BMAA. Possible routes of toxin exposure include inhalation of aerosolized toxins, consuming fish, or ingestion of lake water. Further investigation, including analysis of brain tissue for cyanobacterial toxins, will be helpful to test for an association between BMAA and ALS.
    Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 01/2009; 10 Suppl 2:101-8. · 3.40 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Motor neuron (MN) mitochondrial abnormalities and elevation in spinal fluid levels of the inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The mechanism of neuron death in ALS remains unclear, along with the contributions of mitochondrial dysfunction and inflammation in the process. Cell cultures enriched for MN derived from embryonic rat spinal cords were established and directly exposed in vitro to recombinant TNF-alpha for varying lengths of time. Although cytokine exposure for up to 4 days failed to induce MN death, mitochondrial changes were observed shortly after initiating treatment. Our results demonstrate that TNF-alpha induced mitochondrial redistribution toward the soma in MN. We postulate that inflammation may precede, and in fact cause, the mitochondrial changes observed in ALS tissue.
    Neuroscience 06/2007; 146(3):1013-9. · 3.12 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in the relatively common psychiatric disorder schizophrenia is very rare. This observation has been made by us and a number of other neuromuscular specialists at large ALS centers. We propose that the use of neuroleptics and some antidepressants, which are chronically prescribed to schizophrenics and which have neuroprotective properties and some of which promote neurogenesis, may confer protection against this deadly neurodegenerative disease ALS. Such an observation may have important implications towards the therapy and understanding the pathophysiology of this deadly neurodegenerative disease.
    Medical Hypotheses 02/2007; 69(5):1021-8. · 1.18 Impact Factor
  • Neurology 07/2005; 64(11):1983-4. · 8.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: To report orgasmic epilepsy as a manifestation of paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis in a patient with small cell lung cancer. A 57 years-old woman presented with 2 month history of daily spells that consisted of a sudden pleasure provoking feeling described 'like an orgasm' lasting for 30 s to 1 min. She was a heavy smoker and had noted recent weight loss. Bronchial biopsy, following the finding of a right lung mass, confirmed the diagnosis of small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Spells subsided after starting carbamazepine. The lung cancer was treated with chemotherapy and chest radiation therapy resulting in a complete radiologic response. Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed left temporal lobe area of increased signal on T2 and FLAIR sequence. T1-weighted images after contrast administration demonstrated a circumscribed area of enhancement in the left anterior medial temporal lobe. Electroencephalogram (EEG) showed focal left mid-temporal sharp waves and intermittent slowing. Anti-Hu antibodies were detected in her serum supporting a diagnosis of paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis as the cause of her orgasmic epilepsy. The patient has been followed for 2 years after treatment without tumor recurrence or neurological deterioration. Orgasmic epilepsy is another mode of presentation of paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis leading to the diagnosis of an occult SCLC. EEG and MRI findings suggest that in this case the seizures originated from the left hemisphere. It is possible that early recognition and treatment of the SCLC will improve the prognosis of this neurologic entity.
    Journal of Neuro-Oncology 05/2005; 72(2):195-8. · 3.12 Impact Factor
  • Elijah W Stommel, Jeffrey A Cohen
    Neurology 09/2004; 63(3):596-7; author reply 596-7. · 8.25 Impact Factor
  • Elijah W. Stommel, Michael R. Watters
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    ABSTRACT: Fish and shellfish account for a significant portion of food-borne illnesses throughout the world. In general, three classes of diseases result from seafood consumption--intoxication, allergies, and infections. In this review, the authors discuss several seafood-borne toxins, including domoic acid, which acts on the central nervous system. In addition, the authors discuss ciguatoxin-, brevetoxin-, saxitoxin-, tetrodotoxin-, and scombroid-related histamine toxicity, all of which act primarily on the peripheral nervous system. Fish has become a very popular food in the US mostly related to its potential health benefits. Fish is consumed to such a degree that fishing stocks are reportedly at an all time low from what seemed like an endless supply even 30 years ago. One of the most significant threats to human intoxication is the recreational harvest of shellfish, often times located in remote locations where the harvesters are subsistent on fishery resources and have no monitoring in place. The hazard to intoxication is not as common in purchased seafood, which is more stringently regulated, yet still is a serious problem. Most ingestible toxins are thermo-stable and therefore unaffected by cooking, freezing, or salting. Air transport of consumable products throughout the world makes it easy to obtain exotic edibles from far away countries. A seemingly unusual toxin can be more commonly encountered than previously thought and it is important to consider this when evaluating patients. Recognition and treatment of various neurologic symptoms related to seafood ingestion is paramount in today's mobile, gastronomic world. Specific treatments vary with each individual toxin and with the individual's specific reaction to the toxin. Generally, some degree of medical care is required with all ingestible toxin exposure, ranging from simple administration of medication and hydration to ventilatory and cardiovascular support.
    Current Treatment Options in Neurology 04/2004; 6(2):105-114. · 1.94 Impact Factor
  • Michael R. Watters, Elijah W. Stommel
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    ABSTRACT: Familiarity with the appearance and habitat of venomous sea creatures, the location of their stinging apparatus, and surveillance of population concentrations within recreational waters are essential in avoiding envenomations. Compared with the thermo-stable low molecular weighted ingestible seafood toxins, venomous toxins are often large molecular weight proteins and many are heat labile, which provides opportunity for therapeutic intervention. Heat therapy may denature the toxins, and provide immediate relief of pain in coelenterate and venomous fish envenomations. Injections of local anesthetic agents may also be used. First aid measures at the seashore may limit the spread of venom, and include immobilization of the affected sites, compression bandaging, and venous-lymphatic occlusive bandages. Measures to limit continued envenomation by attached stinging cells include topical vinegar for jellyfish tentacles and irrigation with debridment for spines of venomous fish. Antivenins are of limited availability and may be used for envenomations with sea snakes, Chironex box jellyfish, and some venomous fish. Sea snakes bites may be treated with antivenin from land snakes or with hemodialysis when antivenin is not available. Neuromuscular paralysis occurs with bites by sea snakes, cone snails, blue octopuses, and some jellyfish. Supportive treatment includes attention to cardiopulmonary resuscitation and intubation. Exposure to Pfeisteria may result in cognitive and behavioral abnormalities. Treatment with cholestyramine may be helpful in binding the toxin and improve recovery.
    Current Treatment Options in Neurology 04/2004; 6(2):115-123. · 1.94 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

139 Citations
54.12 Total Impact Points


  • 2004–2013
    • Dartmouth–Hitchcock Medical Center
      Lebanon, New Hampshire, United States
    • University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
      • Department of Medicine
      Honolulu, HI, United States
  • 2012
    • Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
      • Department of Pathology
      Hanover, New Hampshire, United States
  • 2005
    • Lahey Hospital and Medical Center
      • Department of Neurology
      Burlington, Massachusetts, United States