Working with cell cultures, the scientists investigated how amyloid beta proteins, which build up in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer's disease, kill neurons. The cell cultures were established from brain tissue of laboratory rats. Study findings showed that amyloid beta could be prevented from causing neuronal cell death with a compound called resveratrol, which is also found as a natural ingredient in red wine.
"Our study suggests that resveratrol and related compounds may protect against neuronal loss associated with Alzheimer's disease," explains senior author Li Gan, PhD, a staff research investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and an assistant professor of neurology at UC San Francisco. "This could certainly open up new avenues for drug development."
The research results are reported in the December 2 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
According to the research team, it was particularly interesting that the beneficial effect of resveratrol was not due to a direct impact on amyloid beta or on neurons but rather on other types of brain cells, called microglia.
Microglia are the immune cells of the brain. They can protect or hurt neurons, depending on which of their powerful defense or attack pathways are activated. The investigators found that amyloid beta triggers a pathway in microglia that makes them attack neurons with poisonous chemicals.
A key mediator in this pathway is a protein called NF-kB, which resveratrol happens to block. Without resveratrol, amyloid beta activates NF-kB in microglia, turning them into powerful neuron killing machines. Researchers found that, in the presence of resveratrol or of other molecules that blocked NF-kB, microglia were well behaved, and
Contact: John Watson