Disease Damage Reverse in Fruit Flies

Wonderful news! Following treatment with a drug­like chemical, researchers claim Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s symptoms have been reversed in fruit flies. Their findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Centering on the protection of brain cells, this could be a turning point in the fight against neurodegenerative disease. This disease occurs when groups of nerve cell in the brain die which makes it difficult for a person to move and to think. Claire Bale, Parkinson’s UK, believes the symptoms of Parkinson’s tend to appear after 70% of nerve cells in the brain have already been lost.

The current treatments can tackle only the symptoms of the condition and cannot slow or stop the degeneration of these cells. Dr. Carlo­Breda along with researchers of the laboratory of Prof. Flaviano Giorgini at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, wanted to gain better understanding of how this kind of disease starts and how it progresses.
The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster was used to investigate how metabolites in the kynurenine pathway contribute to a loss of nerve cells in Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The substances produced during metabolism or other chemical processes in the body are metabolites. Genetic and pharmacological strategies can be used to lower levels of toxic metabolites in the nervous system with a reduction in a number of the symptoms of neurodegeneration. Certain metabolites are more common in people with neurodegenerative disease and poisonous to nerve cells.

The activity of two critical enzymes in the Kynurenine pathway, known as TDO and KMO, has successfully been prevented. The reduced amount of these metabolites has shown a decrease in nerve cell loss in Huntington’s disease in a fruit fly model. Through the study if was found that inhibiting these two enzymes led to an improvement in symptoms in the flies due to increased levels of kynurenic acid. This acid is a protective kynurenine pathway metabolite that counters the effects of the toxic metabolites.

There is a fine balance between levels of good and bad metabolites in the kynurenine pathway. The balance shifts toward “bad” when neurodegenerative disease occurs. The balance moves back to “good” by inhibiting TDO or KMO. Those flies with Huntington’s, inhibiting TDO or KMO, meant newer neuron cells were lost. Those with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s had a longer lifespan and recovered some of their ability to move. Using a drug­like chemical to inhibit TDO reduced symptoms. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are the two most common neurodegenerative disorders worldwide. The next study will be to confirm the results in mammals and then to carry clinical trials to see if this approach could help patients.

This is good news for those suffering with these two diseases. Harnessing the power of protective proteins to prevent brain cell loss is definitely something to research.

Dr Fredda Branyon