Tel Aviv Scientists Present Potential Parkinson’s Treatment in Fly Model

Researchers from Tel Aviv University described experiments that could lead to a new approach for treating Parkinson's disease (PD) using a common sweetener, mannitol. This research was presented at the Genetics Society of America's 54th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 6, 2013. Mannitol is a sugar alcohol familiar as a component of sugar-free gum and candies. Originally isolated from flowering ash, mannitol is believed to have been the "manna" that rained down from the heavens in biblical times. Fungi, bacteria, algae, and plants make mannitol, but the human body can't. For most commercial uses, it is extracted from seaweed although chemists can synthesize it. And it can be used as more than just a sweetener. The Food and Drug Administration approved mannitol as an intravenous diuretic to flush out excess fluid. It also enables drugs to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the tightly linked cells that form the walls of capillaries in the brain. The tight junctions holding together the cells of these tiniest blood vessels come slightly apart five minutes after an infusion of mannitol into the carotid artery, and they stay open for about 30 minutes. Mannitol has another, less-explored capability: preventing a sticky protein called α-synuclein from gumming up the substantia nigra part of the brains of people with PD and Lewy body dementia (LBD), which has similar symptoms to PD. In the disease state, the proteins first misfold, then form sheets that aggregate, and then extend, forming gummy fibrils. Certain biochemicals, called molecular chaperones, normally stabilize proteins and help them fold into their native three-dimensional forms, which are essential to their functions. Mannitol is a chemical chaperone.
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