Mannitol is a sugar alcohol produced by fungi, bacteria, and algae. According to a report published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry
, researchers from Tel Aviv University have found that mannitol prevents “bad” clumps of the protein, α-synuclein, from forming in the brain — a process that is characteristic of Parkinson’s disease.
After identifying the structural characteristics that facilitate the development of clumps of α-synuclein, the researchers began to hunt for a compound that could inhibit the proteins’ ability to bind together. In the lab, they found that mannitol was among the most effective agents in preventing aggregation of the protein in test tubes.
To test the capabilities of mannitol in the living brain, the researchers turned to transgenic fruit flies engineered to carry the human gene for α-synuclein. To study fly movement, they used a test called the “climbing assay,” in which the ability of flies to climb the walls of a test tube indicates their locomotive capability. In the initial experimental period, 72 percent of normal flies were able to climb up the test tube, compared to only 38 percent of the genetically-altered flies.
The researchers then added mannitol to the food of the genetically-altered flies for a period of 27 days and repeated the experiment. This time, 70 percent of the mutated flies could climb up the test tube. In addition, the researchers observed a 70 percent reduction in aggregates of α-synuclein in mutated flies that had been fed mannitol, compared to those that had not.
These findings were confirmed by a second study that measured the impact of mannitol on mice engineered to produce human α-synuclein. After four months, the researchers found that the mice injected with mannitol also showed a dramatic reduction of α-synuclein in the brain.
Despite the promising animal studies, mannitol’s effectiveness as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease needs more research. However, mannitol is a common component of sugar-free gummy products. The sugar is also approved by the FDA as a diuretic to flush out excess fluids and used during surgery as a substance that opens the blood/brain barrier to ease the passage of other drugs. Therefore, the compound has an excellent safety profile. For Parkinson’s patients, mannitol probably is worth trying as a supplement.
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: Shaltiel-Karyo, M. Frenkel-Pinter, E. Rockenstein, C. Patrick, M. Levy-Sakin, A. Schiller, N. Egoz-Matia, E. Masliah, D. Segal, E. Gazit. A Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) Disrupter Is Also a Potent -Synuclein ( -syn) Aggregation Inhibitor: A NOVEL DUAL MECHANISM OF MANNITOL FOR THE TREATMENT OF PARKINSON DISEASE (PD). Journal of Biological Chemistry
, 2013; 288 (24): 17579 DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M112.434787
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