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Edited by Nasser H Zawia. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2004, $139.95, pp 221. ISBN 0-415-28031-1
My initial impression was that this book is over-ambitious in the scope of what it tries to cover. However, it is to some extent this very breadth that results in some thoughtful outcomes, by drawing together information from diverse sources on environmental and genetic factors and neurodegenerative diseases to propose common mechanisms and end-points.
The book seeks to describe the effects of environmental chemicals on not just two, but three complex areas of biology: nervous system function, gene expression, and developmental neurobiology. As such, the editor and contributors deserve much praise in bringing together these complex areas to gain a better understanding of them all. The design of the book is not to show how modern molecular techniques can assist in understanding mechanisms of toxicity, nor to demonstrate the use neurotoxins to understand nervous system function at the molecular level, but rather to look at the whole picture. This breadth of vision, while admirable, renders the book a difficult read and the intended target audience is not clearly identifiable.
The topics covered range from environmental toxins such as lead, aluminium, and trimethyltin to the recreational drugs, ethanol and MPTP and inherited neurodegenerative diseases. The effects of these factors on gene expression, signal transduction, and transcription coupling are discussed. In so doing, the zinc finger, nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB) and developmental transcription factors, ionotropic glutamate receptors, oxidative stress, DNA repair, are all discussed in some detail.
In common with many multi-author books, the whole could have been improved by greater guidance from the editor. Attention to the design of the book as an entity could also possibly have reduced the repetition of oversimplified introductions to individual chapters and freed up the chapter authors to lead the reader more systematically into the complex core of the information.
Some very helpful diagrams and tables are used to excellent effect and this form of presentation could have been used more to replace often complex text. The level of prior knowledge and understanding assumed is variable. For instance, the author of the Introduction assumes that the reader is knowledgeable about cis-acting DNA elements; then Chapter 2 explains some very basic cell biology and is dismissive of the function glial cells as mainly space-fillers in the brain. Some chapters, such as that on DNA damage and repair in neurotoxicology have succeeded in leading the reader gradually from basic molecular biology to the relevance to neurotoxicology with the help of excellent diagrams. Others are less well presented and although the facts presented are often fascinating, the story is not clear. This is a pity as some parts are well presented, such as the excellent explanation of molecular biology techniques and the description of trimethyltin neurotoxicity.
In conclusion, this is a courageous book, which, for all its shortcomings, is a fascinating read and contains many nuggets of reward, but is not for the faint hearted.