Melatonin Shows Promise as Inhibitor of Alzheimer’s Disease Causing Protein

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New research based upon animal and human cell culture studies, shows that Melatonin, a widely used naturally occurring hormone, reverses the formation of a protein complex that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The study appears in the December 11, 2001 issue of the journal, Biochemistry.

“Our results clearly demonstrate the ability of melatonin to inhibit the process of forming the ‘signature’ amyloid protein bundles seen in Alzheimer’s disease (AD),” said Dr. Miguel Pappolla of the USA Medical Center and the University of South Alabama.

In AD, toxic fibrillar masses of amyloid beta protein are the pathologic landmark of the disease. “What is equally intriguing is that persons with AD also show remarkably lower concentrations of melatonin in their brains,” Pappolla said.

According to the study, melatonin was added to solutions containing the building blocks of the abnormal brain amyloid fibrils, along with human apoE an additional protein associated with AD.

Melatonin inhibited the formation of amyloid beta, which is toxic to nerve cells. Because melatonin has antioxidant actions, its inhibitory effects were compared to other antioxidants like vitamins C, E, and a synthetic antioxidant. All were without effect. Additionally, a naturally occurring brain chemical very similar to melatonin was evaluated and it, too, lacked inhibitory activity.

“This activity attributed to the ‘indole’ structure of melatonin appears to be specific,” added Dr. Pappolla. “We also observed melatonin completely preventing neurotoxicity to human nerve cells exposed to amyloid Beta.”

“These exciting findings, however, mandate much more research before we can convincingly state melatonin can halt or prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” he concluded.

“The use of dietary supplements to promote brain function is an exciting aspect of the growing field of nutritional neuroscience,” noted Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, Professor of Nutrition at Tufts University and Scientific Advisory Board member to the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance(TM), “and these findings from basic research suggest practical applications may not be too far away.”

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