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Mediterranean plants could prolong life in neurodegenerative disease

Mediterranean DietJanuary 11 2017. The January 18, 2017 issue of Neuroscience Letters reports the discovery of researchers at the University of Malta and the University of Bordeaux of a life-extending effect for two plants found in the Mediterranean region.

Ruben J. Cauchi, PhD, and colleagues investigated the properties of brown seaweed and prickly pear in fruit fly models of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The diseases are characterized by the accumulation of sticky proteins that cause damage to the nervous system. “We have long been screening plants scattered across the Mediterranean for small molecules that interfere with the build-up of toxic protein aggregates,” commented study co-author Neville Vassallo, MD, PhD. “The robust effects of chemicals derived from the prickly pear and brown seaweed confirm that our search has certainly not been in vain.”

Initial testing of either plant extract resulted in greater viability in yeast that expressed a genetic variant causing the accumulation of amyloid beta, which is elevated in Alzheimer’s disease. In fruit flies that were genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, the administration of seaweed extract prolonged median life span by two days and prickly pear extract was associated with a four day extension. (One day in fruit flies’ lives is equivalent to a year of human life.) Survival also improved in treated flies bred to express increased alpha-synuclein, a protein that accumulates in Parkinson’s disease.

“We believe that the discovery of bioactive agents that target pathways that are hit by multiple neurodegenerative conditions is the most viable approach in our current fight against brain disorders,” Dr Cauchi stated. “A clear advantage of the drugs used in this study is that, in view of their excellent safety profile, they are already on the market as nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals.”