Slowing the Memory Thief

Alzheimer's disease's natural enemies include beta-carboline alkaloids

(RxWiki News) While there's no cure for Alzheimer's yet, there may be ways to slow the thief that robs memories. Scientists have discovered naturally occurring plant compounds that may be able to delay or possibly even prevent the disease.

A new study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) shows that a family of plant compounds known as beta-carboline alkaloids could potentially be used in new drugs that could prevent the onset of Alzheimer's or at least slow down its progress.

"Plant compounds may help prevent or slow progression Alzheimer's disease."

One of the alkaloids - Harmine - holds particular promise. Harmine blocks a protein that's known to interfere with the connections and communication between brain cells, a process linked to Alzheimer's.

The disruptive protein known as DYRK1A attacks another protein (tau phosphorylation) that acts like a bridge to connect neurons - brain cells. When tau proteins no longer work properly, dementias and Alzheimer's can result.

Dr. Travis Dunckley, Head of TGen's Neurodegenerative Research Unit and the study's senior author, says beta-carboline alkaloids have antioxidant properties that have been shown to protect brain cells from the kind of tau deterioration that contributes to Alzheimer's.

Beta-carboline alkaloids are found in a number of medicinal plants.

Dunckley says the study demonstrates that these compounds should be investigated further for use in new therapeutic drugs that could prevent the onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

This study was published in the scientific journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One.

Review Date: 
June 4, 2011