Magazine article Science News

Brain Seasoning: A Common Spice Could Deter Alzheimer's

Magazine article Science News

Brain Seasoning: A Common Spice Could Deter Alzheimer's

Article excerpt

Past research has suggested that a common spice in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine may improve mental performance in elderly people. Now, scientists have discovered a mechanism by which this spice, called turmeric, could help the body clear plaque deposits associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Those deposits consist of a protein called amyloid-beta. Healthy people's bodies make the protein, but immune system cells called macrophages regularly identify, engulf, and remove it. In the new study, a team led by Milan Fiala of the Greater Los Angeles Veteran's Affairs Medical Center found that macrophages in blood samples from people with Alzheimer's couldn't destroy amyloid-beta.

Fiala's team then compared the gene activity of these impaired macrophages with that of macrophages from healthy people. The researchers identified several genes that were less active in the impaired cells.

When they exposed these dysfunctional macrophages to a chemical in turmeric, the subdued genes switched on, restoring the ability of some of the cells to destroy amyloid-beta.

"These genes are critical for the function of macrophages, so if these genes aren't being expressed, then macrophages wouldn't function properly," says Fiala.

Many of the genes identified as vulnerable belong to a family that makes cell parts called toll-like receptors, which enable immune cells to recognize foreign microbes and other disease-causing agents.

The gene apparently most impaired by Alzheimer's was MGAT3, which was more than 300 times as active in the healthy macrophages as in those from Alzheimer's patients. …

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