Nutrition to halt Alzheimer's gets boost - in fruit flies

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Oxidative stress, Alzheimer's disease

Oxidative stress associated with dementia may be a cause and not an
effect of Alzheimer's, suggests a study with fruit flies from the

The research gives great hope to a dietary/nutritional approach to improve brain health and curb the rise in Alzheimer's and dementia around the world.

"This is exciting because antioxidants may prove to be a good therapeutic approach to [prevent] Alzheimer's disease and ameliorate human neurodegeneration,"​ said lead author Dora Dias-Santagata in a statement.

Although the mechanism of Alzheimer's is not clear, more support is gathering for the build-up of plaque from proteins deposits. The deposits are associated with an increase in brain cell damage and death from oxidative stress.

However, whether oxidative stress is a cause or a result of disease is not clear, said the researchers behind the new study.

"In this study, we provide substantial in vivo evidence supporting a causative role for oxidative stress in tau [protein]-induced neurodegeneration,"​ wrote Dias-Santagata in The Journal of Clinical Investigation​.

Currently, about 12 million people in the US plus the EU suffer from Alzheimer's, with some estimates predicting this figure will have tripled by 2050. The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer care is over $100 bn (€ 81 bn) in the US alone. The direct cost of Alzheimer care in the UK was estimated at £15 bn (€ 22 bn).

Such is the interest in dietary approaches to improve brain health the world's largest food company, Nestlé, recently signaled its intention to get a head start on the competition with the signing of an agreement in November 2006 with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) to investigate the role of nutrition in cognitive function.

The agreement with the EPFL, Nestlé's largest collaboration with a university of research institute, will see the company contributing up to CHF 5 million (€ 3.1 million) every year for five years, with a review after four years to potentially extend the project further.

The fundamental research, by scientists from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston and Howard University in Washington, used genetic and pharmacological approaches to change the genetic expression of transgenic fruit flies so that they would express a disease-related mutant form of human tau protein.

Two different approaches was used by the researchers - on one hand they manipulated genes responsible for the production of anti-oxidant proteins and on the other hand administered the potent anti-oxidant vitamin E to the mutant flies.

The US-based researchers report that reduction in the activity of two anti-oxidant proteins - superoxide dismutase (SOD) and thioredoxin reductases (Trxr) - as a result of their genetic manipulation led to increasing neurodegeneration in the brain of the mutant flies, while administration of vitamin E reversed the effect.

Control flies that did not express the human tau protein did not show any signs of neurodegeneration, they said.

Both results are said to indicate that oxidative stress plays an important role in neurodegenerative dementias, at least in those where the tau protein is involved, and could therefore offer a nutritional/ dietary approach to improving brain health.

"Our results suggest that increased levels of oxidative stress play an active role in enhancing tau-mediated neurodegeneration, possibly through cell cycle activation, underscoring the therapeutic potential of targeting antioxidant pathways and cell cycle mechanisms for the [prevention] of AD,"​ concluded the researchers.

It must be stressed that significant further research is necessary to study this effect and whether such a mechanism is also observed in humans.

Increasing numbers of studies are reporting that a diet rich in antioxidants from vegetables, and fruit like berries and pomegranate, are associated with a significantly decreased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Source: The Journal of Clinical Investigation​ Volume 117, Pages 236-245 "Oxidative stress mediates tau-induced neurodegeneration in Drosophila"​ Authors: D. Dias-Santagata, T.A. Fulga, A. Duttaroy and M.B. Feany

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