Compound reverses symptoms of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in fruit flies

The researchers tested the new method on fruit flies genetically altered to model the diseases

Neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are extremely widespread, affecting millions of people across the planet, but treatments are limited, and there's currently no cure available. New work is showing promise in the development of a new treatment, with scientists identifying a compound that can reverse symptoms of the diseases. The method hasn't been tested on human patients just yet, but it's been found to be effective in genetically modified fruit flies.

Combating neurodegenerative disorders represents one of the biggest challenges in modern medicine. Our understanding of conditions like Alzheimer's is improving rapidly, but actually finding effective treatments, and even cures, is proving extremely difficult.

The new study is a collaborative effort between the University of Maryland and the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. It focuses on metabolites related to an amino acid called tryptophan, which breaks down into numerous compounds when it degrades in the body, which in turn have effects on the nervous system.

Two of these compounds are polar opposites, with 3-hydroxykynurenine (3-HK) having toxic properties and kynurenic acid (KYNA) helping to prevent nerve cell degeneration. The team believes that the amount of the two compounds present in the brain could play a big role in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.

To test that theory, they worked with fruits flies genetically altered to model Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, giving them a chemical that inhibits an enzyme known as trytophan-2,3-dioxygenase (TDO). The enzyme controls the relationship between 3-HK and KYNA, with its inhibition shifting metabolism towards the latter. The effect on the flies was significant, improving their movement and lengthening their lifespans.

"A key finding of our study is that we can improve 'symptoms' in fruit fly models of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease by feeding them a drug-like chemical," said study co-author Carlo Breda of the University of Leicester. "Our experiments have identified TDO as a very promising new drug target."

Looking forward, the researchers hope to test the treatment on human patients to see if it does indeed represent a new means of combating neurodegenerative disorders.

The findings of the study are published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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