Common sweetener mannitol improves motor functions in Parkinson's flies
While investigating the uses of mannitol, researchers at Tel Aviv University found that in addition to helping flush out excess fluid as a diuretic and enabling drugs to cross the blood-brain barrier, mannitol has another ability that could make it ideal for treating Parkinson's.
The sugar alcohol can prevent a sticky protein called α-synuclein from building up in the substantia nigra part of the brain in people with Parkinson's and Lewy body dementia, which has similar symptoms to Parkinson's. Researchers investigated the effects of mannitol on the brain by feeding it to fruit flies with a form of Parkinson's that has high amounts of α-synuclein.
In a climbing test conducted for 27 days to study movement in flies, 72% of normal flies climbed up the sides of the test tube while 38% of flies with the form of Parkinson's did not--an indication of "severe motor dysfunction." When flies were bred with the human mutant α-synuclein gene and given mannitol, they fared much better than the other Parkinson's flies--70% of them could climb after 27 days. Researchers also observed that in fly brain slices, accumulated misfolded protein decreased 70% compared to that found in the brains of mutant flies raised on the regular diet without mannitol.
The research is still far from a new treatment for humans, and scientists do not recommend that Parkinson's patients self-medicate with sweets containing mannitol. Next, researchers plan to conduct a similar study in mice.
This research was presented April 6 at the Genetics Society of America's 54th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Washington, D.C.
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