Neurological scientists at Rush University Medical Center have found that using cinnamon, a common food spice and flavoring material, can reverse the biomechanical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with Parkinson’s disease (PD). The results of the study were recently published in the June 20 issue of the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.
“Cinnamon has been used widely as a spice throughout the world for centuries,” said Kalipada Pahan, PhD, study lead researcher and the Floyd A. Davis professor of neurology at Rush. “This could potentially be one of the safest approaches to halt disease progression in Parkinson’s patients.”
“Cinnamon is metabolized in the liver to sodium benzoate, which is an FDA-approved drug used in the treatment for hepatic metabolic defects associated with hyperammonemia,” said Pahan. It is also widely used as a food preservative due to its microbiocidal effect.
Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamonum cassia) and original Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamonum verum) are two major types of cinnamon that are available in the US.
“Although both types of cinnamon are metabolized into sodium benzoate, by mass spectrometric analysis, we have seen that Ceylon cinnamon is much more pure than Chinese cinnamon as the latter contains coumarin, a hepatotoxic molecule,” said Pahan.
“Understanding how the disease works is important to developing effective drugs that protect the brain and stop the progression of PD,” said Pahan. “It is known that some important proteins like Parkin and DJ-1 decrease in the brain of PD patients.”
The study found that after oral feeding, ground cinnamon is metabolized into sodium benzoate, which then enters into the brain, stops the loss of Parkin and DJ-1, protects neurons, normalizes neurotransmitter levels, and improves motor functions in mice with PD.
This research was supported by grants from National Institutes of Health.
“Now we need to translate this finding to the clinic and test ground cinnamon in patients with PD. If these results are replicated in PD patients, it would be a remarkable advance in the treatment of this devastating neurodegenerative disease,” said Dr. Pahan.
Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive disease that affects a small area of cells within the mid-brain known as the substantia nigra. Gradual degeneration of these cells causes a reduction in a vital chemical neurotransmitter, dopamine. The decrease in dopamine results in one or more of the classic signs of Parkinson’s disease that includes: resting tremor on one side of the body; generalized slowness of movement; stiffness of limbs; and gait or balance problems. The cause of the disease is unknown. Both environmental and genetic causes of the disease have been postulated.
Parkinson’s disease affects about 1.2 million patients in the United States and Canada. Although 15 percent of patients are diagnosed before age 50, it is generally considered a disease that targets older adults, affecting one of every 100 persons over the age of 60. This disease appears to be slightly more common in men than women.
A drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease could also help people with phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Scientists of the Translational Neurosciences (FTN) Research Center at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) are currently exploring the effects of psychotherapy to extinguish…
Every now and then a scholarly journal retracts an article because of errors or outright fraud. In academic circles, and sometimes beyond, each retraction is a big deal.
Now comes word of a journal retracting 60 articles at once.
The reason for the mass retraction is mind-blowing: A “peer review and citation ring” was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.
You’ve heard of prostitution rings, gambling rings and extortion rings. Now there’s a “peer review ring.”
In the brains of all vertebrates, information is transmitted through synapses, a mechanism that allows an electric or chemical signal to be passed from one brain cell to another. Chemical synapses, which are the most abundant type of synapse, can be either excitatory or inhibitory. Synapse formation is crucial for learning, memory, perception and cognition, and the balance between excitatory and inhibitory synapses critical for brain function. For instance, every time we learn something, the new information is transformed into memory through synaptic plasticity, a process in which synapses are strengthened and become more responsive to different stimuli or environmental cues. Synapses may change their shape or function in a matter of seconds or over an entire lifetime. In humans, a number of disorders are associated with dysfunctional synapses, including autism, epilepsy, substance abuse and depression.
Astrocytes, named for their star-like shape, are ubiquitous brain cells known for regulating excitatory synapse formation through cells. Recent studies have shown that astrocytes also play a role in forming inhibitory synapses, but the key players and underlying mechanisms have remained unknown until now.
A new study just published in the journal Glia and available online on July 11th, details the newly discovered mechanism by which astrocytes are involved in inhibitory synapse formation and presents strong evidence that Transforming Growth Factor Beta 1 (TGF β1), a protein produced by many cell types (including astrocytes) is a key player in this process. The team led by Flávia Gomes of the Rio de Janeiro Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro investigated the process in both mouse and human tissues, first in test tubes, then in living brain cells.
Previous evidence has shown that TGF β1, a molecule associated with essential functions in nervous system development and repair, modulates other components responsible for normal brain function. In this study, the authors were able to show that TGF β1 triggers N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA), a molecule controlling memory formation and maintenance through synaptic plasticity. In the study, the group also shows that TGF β1-induction of inhibitory synapses depends on activation of another molecule - Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMK2)-, which works as a mediator for learning and memory. “Our study is the first to associate this complex pathway of molecules, of which TGF β1 seems to be a key player, to astrocytes’ ability to modulate inhibitory synapses”, says Flávia Gomes.
The idea that the balance between excitatory and inhibitory inputs depends on astrocyte signals gains strong support with this new study and suggests a pivotal role for astrocytes in the development of neurological disorders involving impaired inhibitory synapse transmission. Knowing the players and mechanisms underlying inhibitory synapses may improve our understanding of synaptic plasticity and cognitive processes and may help develop new drugs for treating these diseases.
Amidst the astounding complexity of the billions of nerve cells and trillions of synaptic connections in the brain, how do nerve cells decide how far to grow or how many connections to build? How do they coordinate these events within the developing brain?
In a new study, scientists from the…
A team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and Salk Institute for Biological Studies has shown for the first time that stem cells created using different methods produce differing cells. The findings, published in the July 2, 2014 online issue of Nature, provide new insights into the basic biology of stem cells and could ultimately lead to improved stem cell therapies.
Capable of developing into any cell type, pluripotent stem cells offer great promise as the basis for emerging cell transplantation therapies that address a wide array of diseases and conditions, from diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease to cancer and spinal cord injuries. In theory, stem cells could be created and programmed to replace ailing or absent cells for every organ in the human body.
The gold standard is human embryonic stem cells (ES cells) cultured from discarded embryos generated by in vitro fertilization, but their use has long been limited by ethical and logistical considerations. Scientists have instead turned to two other methods to create stem cells: Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), in which genetic material from an adult cell is transferred into an empty egg cell, and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), in which adult cells are reverted back to a stem cell state by artificially turning on targeted genes.
Until now, no one had directly and closely compared the stem cells acquired using these two methods. The scientists found they produced measurably different results. “The nuclear transfer ES cells are much more similar to real ES cells than the iPS cells,” said co-senior author Louise Laurent, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Reproductive Medicine at UC San Diego. “They are more completely reprogrammed and have fewer alterations in gene expression and DNA methylation levels that are attributable to the reprogramming process itself.”
Pictured: Scanning electron micrograph of cultured human neuron from induced pluripotent stem cell. Image courtesy of Mark Ellisman and Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, UC San Diego
Researchers at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) have found evidence that the less older adults sleep, the faster their brains age. These findings, relevant in the context of Singapore’s rapidly ageing society, pave the way for future work on sleep loss and its contribution…
Teen scientist harnesses sun power to help Navajo community
New Mexico teen Raquel Redshirt uses everyday materials and the sun to build solar ovens, fulfilling a Navajo community need and winning an award at the Intel ISEF competition.
Growing up on New Mexico’s Navajo Nation, Raquel Redshirt was well aware of the needs of her community. Many of her impoverished neighbors lacked basics such as electricity, as well as stoves and ovens to cook food.
Though resources in the high desert are limited, Raquel realized one was inexhaustible: the sun. “That’s where I got the idea of building a solar oven,” the teen says.
She researched solar ovens and found that most incorporate mirrors or other expensive materials. Raquel wanted to create a design that anyone could easily afford and replicate, using readily available materials.
Psychedelic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms can profoundly alter the way we experience the world but little is known about what physically happens in the brain. New research, published in Human Brain Mapping, has examined the brain effects of the psychedelic chemical in magic mushrooms, called psilocybin, using data from brain scans of volunteers who had been injected with the drug.
The study found that under psilocybin, activity in the more primitive brain network linked to emotional thinking became more pronounced, with several different areas in this network - such as the hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex - active at the same time. This pattern of activity is similar to the pattern observed in people who are dreaming. Conversely, volunteers who had taken psilocybin had more disjointed and uncoordinated activity in the brain network that is linked to high-level thinking, including self-consciousness.
Psychedelic drugs are unique among other psychoactive chemicals in that users often describe ‘expanded consciousness,’ including enhanced associations, vivid imagination and dream-like states. To explore the biological basis for this experience, researchers analysed brain imaging data from 15 volunteers who were given psilocybin intravenously while they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Volunteers were scanned under the influence of psilocybin and when they had been injected with a placebo.
“What we have done in this research is begin to identify the biological basis of the reported mind expansion associated with psychedelic drugs,” said Dr Robin Carhart-Harris from the Department of Medicine, Imperial College London. “I was fascinated to see similarities between the pattern of brain activity in a psychedelic state and the pattern of brain activity during dream sleep, especially as both involve the primitive areas of the brain linked to emotions and memory. People often describe taking psilocybin as producing a dream-like state and our findings have, for the first time, provided a physical representation for the experience in the brain.”
The new study examined variation in the amplitude of fluctuations in what is called the blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal, which tracks activity levels in the brain. This revealed that activity in important brain networks linked to high-level thinking in humans becomes unsynchronised and disorganised under psilocybin. One particular network that was especially affected plays a central role in the brain, essentially ‘holding it all together’, and is linked to our sense of self.
In comparison, activity in the different areas of a more primitive brain network became more synchronised under the drug, indicating they were working in a more co-ordinated, ‘louder’ fashion. The network involves areas of the hippocampus, associated with memory and emotion, and the anterior cingulate cortex which is related to states of arousal.
Lead author Dr Enzo Tagliazucchi from Goethe University, Germany said: “A good way to understand how the brain works is to perturb the system in a marked and novel way. Psychedelic drugs do precisely this and so are powerful tools for exploring what happens in the brain when consciousness is profoundly altered. It is the first time we have used these methods to look at brain imaging data and it has given some fascinating insight into how psychedelic drugs expand the mind. It really provides a window through which to study the doors of perception.”
Dr. Carhart-Harris added: “Learning about the mechanisms that underlie what happens under the influence of psychedelic drugs can also help to understand their possible uses. We are currently studying the effect of LSD on creative thinking and we will also be looking at the possibility that psilocybin may help alleviate symptoms of depression by allowing patients to change their rigidly pessimistic patterns of thinking. Psychedelics were used for therapeutic purposes in the 1950s and 1960s but now we are finally beginning to understand their action in the brain and how this can inform how to put them to good use.”
The data was originally collected at Imperial College London in 2012 by a research group led by Dr Carhart-Harris and Professor David Nutt from the Department of Medicine, Imperial College London. Initial results revealed a variety of changes in the brain associated with drug intake. To explore the data further Dr. Carhart-Harris recruited specialists in the mathematical modelling of brain networks, Professor Dante Chialvo and Dr Enzo Tagliazucchi to investigate how psilocybin alters brain activity to produce its unusual psychological effects.
As part of the new study, the researchers applied a measure called entropy. This was originally developed by physicists to quantify lost energy in mechanical systems, such as a steam engine, but entropy can also be used to measure the range or randomness of a system. For the first time, researchers computed the level of entropy for different networks in the brain during the psychedelic state. This revealed a remarkable increase in entropy in the more primitive network, indicating there was an increased number of patterns of activity that were possible under the influence of psilocybin. It seemed the volunteers had a much larger range of potential brain states that were available to them, which may be the biophysical counterpart of ‘mind expansion’ reported by users of psychedelic drugs.
Previous research has suggested that there may be an optimal number of dynamic networks active in the brain, neither too many nor too few. This may provide evolutionary advantages in terms of optimising the balance between the stability and flexibility of consciousness. The mind works best at a critical point when there is a balance between order and disorder and the brain maintains this optimal number of networks. However, when the number goes above this point, the mind tips into a more chaotic regime where there are more networks available than normal. Collectively, the present results suggest that psilocybin can manipulate this critical operating point.