The memory-protecting compound is called fisetin, and it's a flavonol antioxidant that's known for its neuron-protecting properties in healthy animals. The new study shows the fruit and veggie antioxidant could potentially block Alzheimer's symptoms in mice predisposed to the disease, as well.
Interestingly, giving mice fisetin did prevent Alzheimer's symptoms but did not prevent amyloid plaques from forming on the brain. This is the type of plaque that has long been associated with Alzheimer's disease, meaning the study provides clues that there could be other ways to stop Alzheimer's that don't rely only on targeting plaque buildup, points out the researcher from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies involved in the study.
In the study, scientists used mice with genetic mutations that made them more susceptible to Alzheimer's disease. At 3 months old, some of those mice were given food that contained fisetin. By the 9-month mark, the mice that hadn't eaten fisetin started performing poorly in memory mazes. Those who did eat the antioxidant-enhanced food, however, performed on par with normal mice through their entire first year.
"Even as the disease would have been progressing, the fisetin was able to continue preventing symptoms," says Pamela Maher, a senior staff scientist in Salk's Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, who led the new study.
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Next, the scientists teamed up with University of California–San Diego researchers to test molecules in both the brains of mice that had eaten fisetin and those that hadn't. In the fisetin-free group with Alzheimer's symptoms, researchers saw pathways for cellular inflammation were turned on. In the fisetin-fed group, anti-inflammatory molecules were present instead.
"The model that we used here was a preventive model," explains Maher. "We started the mice on the drugs before they had any memory loss. But obviously, human patients don't go to the doctor until they are already having memory problems." So the next step in moving the discovery toward clinical use, she says, is to test whether fisetin can reverse declines in memory once they have already appeared.
The study appeared recently in the journal Aging Cell.