Caffeine May Help Lower Risk For Dementia

By Donna Bellevue , Mar 08, 2017 01:40 AM EST

Researchers find that caffeine can boost an enzyme which may lower the effects of harmful proteins in the brain that lead to dementia. The study also finds 23 other compounds with similar functions. This discovery could help advance efforts in finding drugs that could significantly protect the brain from neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, and even amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The enzyme, NMNAT2, has been found to protect the brain by shielding neurons from stress-causing agents. It also efectively combats proteins that turn into brain plaques that are linked to the development of neurodegenerative disorders. It was discovered by a team of researchers at IU Bloomington in 2016.

Researchers screened more than 1,280 compounds, including caffeine, to find ones that can impact the production of NMNAT2. They successfully identified 24 compounds which can potentially increase the enzyme production. According to Hui-Chen Lu, who led the study that identifies caffeine and other compounds as brain protectants, the study hopefully can help develop drugs that increase levels of NMNAT2 in the brain, the UPI reports.

She adds that the enzyme helps by creating a chemical 'blockade' against the debilitating effects of neurodegenerative disorders. The research reveals the ingredient in coffee was one of the substances that strongly increases production of NMNAT2. They tested the effects of the compounds on mice, the Science Daily reports.

Caffeine also appears to improve memory function in mice which are genetically modified to produce high levels of proteins that contribute to the development of dementia. Other proteins that are identified which can potentially boost NMNAT2 production, although not as strongly as caffeine, include rolipram, ziprasidone, cantharidin, wortmannin and retinoic acid. Researchers explain that the study of these compounds can lead to the understanding of their roles in the body, providing new insights into how they may contribute to dementia.

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