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Body's own substance against Alzheimer's
A body's own molecule could strengthen the defense mechanisms against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. This is what researchers at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) discovered.
New approach to therapies As scientists at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biology of Aging in Cologne have discovered, an endogenous molecule could strengthen the defense mechanisms against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. In experiments with roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans), N-acetylglucosamine dissolved protein clumps and prevented new ones from forming. If you feed the small roundworm with this metabolic product, it helps break down harmful protein aggregates in the body and extends the life of the worm. Since the substance also occurs in the human body, it could be a new approach for the therapy of neurodegenerative diseases, as the German researchers report in the specialist magazine "Cell".
No effective therapies against Alzheimer's and Co. yet. The number of Alzheimer's patients is steadily increasing in our aging society. With this disease, nerve cells die and the brain can no longer perform many functions. This process is called neurodegeneration. Proteins tend to aggregate in the human body during aging, they change their structure, become "sticky" and "clump", so to speak. At a certain point, this protein aggregation becomes harmful and overloads the cell so that it can no longer function normally. But not only Alzheimer's disease, but also Parkinson's disease or Huntington's disease result from the aggregation of proteins. So far there is no effective therapy against these neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, the researchers at the MPI have started looking for a substance that can stop neuron death.
Amazing effects in three diseases The small roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans was the model organism with which the scientists worked. "Although we cannot measure dementia in worms," explains Martin Denzel from the MPI, "but we can observe proteins that we know play a harmful role in human diseases such as Alzheimer's." The researchers have in their study their effect on neuromuscular function is measured and a body-specific opponent for these harmful proteins is discovered. The body's own molecule, which in the experiments showed astonishing effects in three diseases, is called N-acetylglucosamine. This substance was fed to sick worms in the studies. “In studies with C.elegans, we observed a general effect that alleviates the harmful protein aggregation in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases. And the worms' lifespan is even extended, ”says one of the study authors, Nadia Storm, describing the results.
Open question of whether it can be used in humans This molecule apparently plays a crucial role in quality control, which aims to keep the body healthy, according to the researchers. It helps the organism to reduce the harmful protein aggregates: on the one hand, it prevents them from forming at all and, on the other hand, in some cases existing aggregates could be eliminated. One consequence of this molecular effect was that paralysis was delayed in studies of neurodegeneration. It is still unclear exactly how the molecule achieves this effect. "And we still don't know if it will work for more advanced animals and humans," said Adam Antebi, another participant in the study. "But since we also have these metabolites in our cells, we suspect that similar mechanisms work in humans." Glucosamine, a substance similar to N-acetylglucosamine, is already being used to treat joint problems. However, its effectiveness is controversial. Therefore, it is still an open question whether N-acetylglucosamine can be used to treat dementia or other age-related diseases in humans. (ad)
Image: Angela Parszyk / pixelio.de