We are all aware of the "French paradox," wherein French people, despite consuming food high in cholesterol and saturated fats, has long had low death rates from heart disease because of the red wine consumed with all that fatty food that may protect them against cardiovascular diseases.
Now, Alzheimer's researchers at UCLA, in collaboration with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, have discovered how red wine may reduce the incidence of the neurodegenerative disease.
Led by David Teplow, a UCLA professor of neurology, the researchers in the study showed how naturally occurring compounds in red wine called polyphenols block the formation of proteins that build the toxic plaques thought to destroy brain cells.
The scientists also described how they reduce the toxicity of existing plaques, thus reducing cognitive deterioration.
Polyphenols comprise a chemical class with more than 8,000 members, many of which are found in high concentrations in wine, tea, nuts, berries, cocoa and various plants.
In earlier studies, it was shown that such polyphenols may inhibit or prevent the buildup of toxic fibers composed primarily of two proteins - Aß40 and Aß42 - that deposit in the brain and form the plaques which have long been associated with Alzheimer's.
However, no one understood the mechanics of how polyphenols worked till date.
Teplow's lab has been studying how amyloid beta (Aß) is involved in causing Alzheimer's.
In the current study, researchers monitored how Aß40 and Aß42 proteins folded up and stuck to each other to produce aggregates that killed nerve cells in mice. They then treated the proteins with a polyphenol compound extracted from grape seeds.
They discovered that polyphenols carried a one-two punch: They blocked the formation of the toxic aggregates of Aß and also decreased toxicity when they were combined with Aß before it was added to brain cells.
"What we found is pretty straightforward. If the Aß proteins can't assemble, toxic aggregates can't form, and thus there is no toxicity. Our work in the laboratory, and Mt. Sinai's Dr. Giulio Pasinetti''s work in mice, suggest that administration of the compound to Alzheimer's patients might block the development of these toxic aggregates, prevent disease development and also ameliorate existing disease," said Teplow.
Now, the researchers are working towards conducting human clinical trials.
"No disease-modifying treatments of Alzheimer's now exist, and initial clinical trials of a number of different candidate drugs have been disappointing. So we believe that this is an important next step," said Teplow.
The study is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.