The study – published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry – reports that the compound found in the spice turmeric could one day be effective in preventing or reducing Parkinson’s by blocking the clumping (aggregation) action of proteins involved in the disease.
Researchers fromMichigan State University,USA, found that the spice prevents aggregation of a protein known as alpha-synuclein by forcing it to scatter.
"Our research shows that curcumin can rescue proteins from aggregation, the first steps of many debilitating diseases," said Professor Lisa Lapidus who co-authored the paper.
"More specifically, curcumin binds strongly to alpha-synuclein and prevents aggregation at body temperatures," she added.
The researchers said that when curcumin binds to alpha-synuclein it not only stops clumping, but it also speeds up the protein's folding and reconfiguration. By increasing the speed, the spice compound makes protein avoid clumping with other proteins as it is prone to when it folds more slowly.
However Lapidus said that the promise shown by curcumin may be short lived: "Curcumin's usefulness … may be pretty limited since it doesn't go into the brain easily where this misfolding is taking place," she said.
However she said that the study does open the door for new developments as it showcases the potential for measuring and altering the reconfiguration of proteins that can lead to serious health issues.
Lapidus' team said that shedding light on the process by correlating the speed at which protein folds with its tendency to clump or bind with other proteins could help future research and development activities.
Curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow colour, has increasingly come under the scientific spotlight in recent years, with studies investigating its potential health benefits.
As a result, curcumin has been linked to a range of health benefits, including potential protection against prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s, protection against heart failure, diabetes, and arthritis.
However curcumin was among a host of herbs claiming joint health benefits to be delivered negative article 13.1 opinions by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in February 2010.
The new study adds weight to the purported benefits of the yellow pigment by suggesting the compound may help to slow down the folding of proteins involved in the first step of diseases such as Parkinson's.
Source: Journal of Biological Chemistry
Volume 287, Pages 9193-9199, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.325548
“Curcumin Prevents Aggregation in α-Synuclein by Increasing Reconfiguration Rate”
Authors: B. Ahmad, L.J. Lapidus