In Spain at least 150,000 people suffer from Parkinson’s, a neurological, chronic and progressive disease that, according to data from the Spanish Neurology Society (SEN), 10,000 people are diagnosed every year. The Spanish Parkinson’s Federation (FEP) calculates that in 2040 this will be the most common serious pathologyTherefore, all the steps taken to stop it will be key for the population in the not so distant future.

The latest discovery in this field has been made by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who have shown in studies with mice that the farnesol prevents and reverses Parkinson’s-related brain damage. It is an organic compound that is found naturally in herbs, berries, and other fruits.

According to their study, which has been published in ‘Science Translational Medicine’, the farnesol can prevent the loss of neurons that produce dopamine in the brain of mice by deactivating PARIS, a key protein involved in disease progression. The loss of these neurons affects movement and cognition, causing the characteristic symptoms of this neurodegenerative disease: tremors, muscle stiffness, confusion, and dementia. The ability of farnesol to block PARIS could serve to develop new interventions against this pathology that specifically target this protein.

An illustration of PARIS showing the crystal structure of farnesyltransferase, the enzyme that enables farnesylation.

“Our experiments showed that farnesol significantly prevented the loss of dopamine-producing neurons and reversed behavioral deficits in mice, indicating its potential as a pharmacological treatment to prevent Parkinson’s disease, “he explains. Ted Dawson, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cellular Engineering and professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The results of the work detail how the researchers identified the potential of this natural compound by examining a large list of drugs in order to find those that inhibited PARIS.

In the brains of people with Parkinson’s, a build-up of PARIS slows down the production of the protective protein PGC-1 alpha. The protein protects brain cells from harmful reactive oxygen molecules that build up in the brain. Without PGC-1alpha, dopamine neurons die, leading to the cognitive and physical changes associated with neurodegenerative pathology.

The mouse experiment

To study whether farnesol could protect the brain from the effects of PARIS accumulation, the researchers fed mice a supplemented diet with the compound and others with a normal diet for a week. The scientists then administered preformed fibrils of the protein alpha-synuclein, which is associated with the effects of Parkinson’s in the brain. They found that rodents fed the farnesol diet they performed better on a strength and coordination test designed to detect progression of disease symptoms.

When researchers studied brain tissue Of the mice in the two groups, they found that those given farnesol in food had twice as many healthy dopamine neurons as those not fed the compound-enriched diet. Those nourished with farnesol also had approximately 55% more of the protective protein PGC-1 alpha in their brains than the untreated rodents.

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In chemical experiments, they confirmed that el farnesol is one in PARIS, changing the shape of the protein so that it can no longer interfere with the synthesis of PGC-1 alpha.

While this compound occurs naturally, the synthetic versions that are sold and the amounts that people get through diet are unclear. Therefore, the experts warn that safe doses of farnesol for humans have not yet been determined and that only carefully controlled clinical trials can.

Although more research is needed, Dawson and his team they hope that farnesol could one day be used to create treatments that prevent or reverse the brain damage caused by Parkinson’s disease.

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