Chemicals from Two Mediterranean Plants May Combat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
According to scientists from the University of Malta and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS/University of Bordeaux), chemicals extracted from the prickly pear and brown seaweed, two ubiquitous Mediterranean plants, have been elevated to possible drug candidates to combat the neurodegenerative diseases. Brown seaweed is commonly known as Peacock’s tail
A release from the University of Malta notes that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are classic age-related disorders characterized by the accumulation of sticky protein clumps that over time damage the nervous system to erode mobility or memory. The human suffering they cause, as well as the strain on healthcare, are enormous. But there is hope on the horizon. The release quotes study co-author Neville Vassallo, MD, PhD, professor of molecular physiology at the University of Malta School of Medicine and Surgery, as saying, “We have long been screening plants scattered across the Mediterranean for small molecules that interfere with the build-up of toxic protein aggregates. The robust effects of chemicals derived from the prickly pear and brown seaweed confirm that our search has certainly not been in vain.”
The research team began by running tests to determine the effect of the plant extracts on brewer’s yeast brimming with beta-amyloid clumps, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Following exposure to the chemicals, the yeast’s health improved dramatically, a result that encouraged the researchers to evaluate the molecules on fruit flies that had been genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s symptoms.
On regular treatment with seaweed extract, the median lifespan of diseased flies was prolonged by two days. A greater four-day extension was observed when prickly pear extract was administered. Considering that one day in the life of a fruit fly is equivalent to around one year in humans, the results are dramatic. Interestingly, the mobility of sick flies was improved by about 18% after treatment, highlighting a significant improvement.
Scientists also discovered that the substances prolonged the lifespan of flies with brains overloaded with alpha-synuclein, a gummy protein implicated in Parkinson’s disease, hence, underscoring an effect on neurodegenerative mechanisms shared by both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. To this end, they found that the plant-derived molecules interfered with the build-up of both beta-amyloid and alpha-synuclein proteins to generate clumps that are less toxic to neurons. The study is reported in the January issue of the journal Neuroscience Letters.