Copper Toxicity and Public Health: An Investigation of Copper’s Effects on Pathogens and Human Health

Hsiao, Florence S. [Browse]
Senior thesis
83 pages


Shenk, Tom [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Molecular Biology [Browse]
Class year
Restrictions note
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note
The antimicrobial effects of copper have been well established and may prove to be an effective means of reducing nosocomial or hospital-acquired infections. However, discussions surrounding the antimicrobial properties of copper-containing surfaces rarely address the effect of such materials on human health. Copper’s toxic effects on microbes may prove to be a double-edged sword, as the same mechanism can be harmful to humans as well. Therefore, this thesis aims to provide a comprehensive review of the copper’s biology and toxicity in humans with a particular emphasis on copper’s relationship to Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to the literature review, an exploratory study was conducted to investigate the underlying mechanism of copper’s antiviral effects, which has remained largely unexplored. Current understanding of copper biology in humans suggests that the complex copper homeostatic systems of humans allow for high copper tolerance. However, it is difficult to characterize the effects of long-term exposure to environmental copper due to the limitations of toxicology studies, and the suggestion that copper may play a causal role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease is controversial and tenuous at best. Moreover, although the copper’s potent effects against Herpes simplex virus-1 is promising, much more needs to be done to understand the underlying mechanism of copper against viruses. In conclusion, due to the shortage of knowledge regarding copper toxicity for humans and for pathogens, much more needs to be done before the widespread adoption and implementation of copper-containing products in clinical and public settings.

Supplementary Information