A family of naturally occurring plant compounds could help prevent or delay memory loss, associated with Alzheimer's disease, found in a study.
The study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) showed that beta-carboline alkaloids could potentially be used in therapeutic drugs to stop, or at least slow down, the progressively debilitating effects of Alzheimer's.
One of these alkaloids, called harmine, inhibits a protein known as DYRK1A, which has been implicated by this and other studies in the formation of tau phosphorylation.
Tau is a protein critical to the formation of the microtubule bridges in neurons. These bridges support the synaptic connections that, like computer circuits, allow brain cells to communicate with each other.
"Pharmacological inhibition of DYRK1A through the use of beta-carboline alkaloids may provide an opportunity to intervene therapeutically to alter the onset or progression of tau pathology in Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Travis Dunckley, Head of Tgen's Neurodegenerative Research Unit, and the study's senior author, said.
Beta-carboline alkaloids are found in a number of medicinal plants. They have antioxidant properties, and have been shown to protect brain cells from excessive stimulation of neurotransmitters.
"They are natural occurring compounds in some plant species that affect multiple central nervous system targets," the study said.
In this study, laboratory tests showed that harmine, and several other beta-carboline alkaloids "potently reduced" the expression of three forms of phosphorylated tau, and inhibited the ability of DYRK1A to phosphorylate tau protein at multiple genetic sites associated with tau pathology.
"These results suggest that this class of compounds warrant further investigation as candidate tau-based therapeutics to alter the onset or progression of tau dysfunction and pathology in Alzheimer's disease," Dunckley stated.
The study has been published in the scientific journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One.