Researchers Using Natural Compound to ‘Beet’ Alzheimer’s Progression

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by Alice Melão |

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betanin beta-amyloid copper

Betanin, the compound that gives beets their distinctive red color, can help slow the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the brain, a process that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, “Beeting” Alzheimer’s: Inhibition of Cu2+-β-amyloid mediated oxidation and peroxidation by betanin from sugar beets,” was a poster presentation at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) held recently in New Orleans.

For decades the main suspect behind Alzheimer’s disease has been beta-amyloid, a protein fragment that accumulates in the brain and disrupts communication between nerve cells.

Beta-amyloid has been shown to attach itself to these metals, causing beta-amyloid peptides to misfold and bind together in clumps, promoting inflammation and oxidation in neighboring nerve cells and eventually killing them. Preventing copper from reacting with beta-amyloid potentially could protect the brain from Alzheimer’s promoting mechanisms.

University of South Florida (Tampa, Florida) researchers tested if betanin — a beet compound used in commercial dyes that has high affinity for metals — could block copper reactions with beta-amyloid.

The team found that when copper and beta-amyloid bound together they are extremely reactive and were likely to support damaging oxidative reactions. In contrast, upon betanin’s presence, the reactivity of this mixture was reduced by about 90 percent, suggesting that copper was being effectively blocked.

“We can’t say that betanin stops the misfolding [of beta-amyloid] completely, but we can say that it reduces oxidation,” Darrell Cole Cerrato, co-author of the study, said in a press release. “Less oxidation could prevent misfolding to a certain degree, perhaps even to the point that it slows the aggregation of beta-amyloid peptides, which is believed to be the ultimate cause of Alzheimer’s,” he said.

The researchers believe this discovery may pave the way for new therapeutics and advances in Alzheimer’s prevention.

“This is just a first step, but we hope that our findings will encourage other scientists to look for structures similar to betanin that could be used to synthesize drugs that could make life a bit easier for those who suffer from this disease,” said study co-author Li-June Ming, PhD.