Niacin is neuroprotective in a fly model of Parkinson’s disease

Niacin is neuroprotective in a fly model of Parkinson’s disease


People with certain forms of early-onset
Parkinson’s disease may benefit from boosting the amount of niacin in their
diet. That’s the upshot of a new study from the MRC toxicology unit at the
University of Leicester, which studied fruit flies with a mutation that
mimics the human disease. Niacin, or vitamin B3, is found in a variety of
foods, including nuts and meat. The results reveal a mechanism for how this
particular type of Parkinson’s affects the brain and point to other drugs that
may also help this subset of patients. Parkinson’s disease occurs when
dopaminergic neurons in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra are
lost. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but in some hereditary cases, the
main problem is unhealthy mitochondria, the organelles that power the cell.
Mutations and genes such as pink1 prevent cells from clearing out
defective powerhouses. When they accumulate, neurons can’t get enough
energy and die. The faulty mitochondria also release toxic molecules that
damage their genes. Curiously enough, there’s a compound in the body that’s
important for both energy generation and DNA repair. Tt’s called NAD. With all
the mitochondrial damage going on, perhaps in Parkinson’s, the molecule ends
up in short supply. To find out, the team fed fruit flies with mutated pink1
genes food supplemented with niacin, which is made into NAD inside the body.
With this extra source of NAD, the flies had far fewer defective mitochondria
than their mutant peers on a regular diet. The vitamin also prevented the
flies from losing neurons. The neuroscientists then asked whether
stopping DNA repair from depleting NAD would protect the Parkinson’s flies. The
answer was yes! Genetically switching this function off kept mitochondria
healthy and neurons alive, and it improved the flies strength, mobility and
lifespan. The results suggest that in familial Parkinson’s, available NAD is
critical for keeping mitochondria in shape and the disease at bay. Drugs that
block NAD-consuming DNA repair already exist to treat cancer – loading up on
niacin probably can’t hurt either. While neither of these would be cures, they
would expand treatment options for Parkinson’s
patients with faulty mitochondria

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