While we may be well aware that carrying a little extra fat may not be good for our health, we rarely hear of any positive benefits. Now researchers from University of California, Berkeley are suggesting that having a little extra padding may help to protect us from developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
So far, the findings have only been observed in nematode worms and human cells grown in a petri dish, but the researchers believe that these results have far reaching implications.
All neurodegenerative diseases caused by an accumulation of abnormal proteins
The one thing that all neurodegenerative diseases have in common is that they are caused by an accumulation of abnormal proteins. These proteins collect in or between the brain cells to form tangles or plaques, and it’s these plaques that cause the damage that results in mental decline and early death.
Ceramide stopped the formation of the abnormal proteins
The researchers from Berkeley made their unusual discovery after they observed that their nematode C. elegans worms, that had been engineered to mimic Huntington’s disease, started to grow fat. Intrigued, they found that this was due to an increase in the production of a specific type of lipid, known as ceramide, that stopped the formation of the proteins that go on to produce the plaques. Furthermore, they discovered that this fat was needed to turn on the genes that protected the worms from Huntington’s disease, thus revealing a pathway that could possibly be used to develop a treatment for the disease.
Both worms and cultured human cells almost completely protected from plaques
More excitingly, the team also found that this was also the case for cultured human cells, with both the worm cells and human cells being almost completely protected from the plaques associated with Huntington’s disease. They then went on to treat the worms and the human cells with a drug that prevented the cell from storing the ceramide, and observed the same protective effect.
Could lead to new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases
The lead researcher has now begun further experiments to determine whether this drug can be used to formulate new treatments.