Background: Epidemiologic studies have raised the possibility that some pesticide compounds induce the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), though the available evidence is not entirely consistent. Methods: We conducted a population-based case-control study in two Italian populations to assess the extent to which residence in the vicinity of agricultural crops associated with the application of neurotoxic pesticides is a risk factor for ALS, using crop acreage in proximity to the residence as an index of exposure. Results: Based on 703 cases and 2737 controls, we computed an ALS odds ratio of 0.92 (95% confidence interval 0.78-1.09) for those in proximity to agricultural land. Results were not substantially different when using alternative exposure categories or when analyzing specific crop types, with the exception of a higher risk related to exposure to citrus orchards and olive groves in Southern Italy, though based on few exposed subjects (N = 89 and 8, respectively). There was little evidence of any dose-response relation between crop proximity and ALS risk, and using long-term residence instead of current residence did not substantially change our estimates. Conclusions: Though our index of exposure is indirect and subject to considerable misclassification, our results offer little support for the hypothesis that neurotoxic pesticide exposure increases ALS risk.
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