In a new study from the University of South Florida, researchers found fenchol, a natural compound abundant in some plants including basil, can help protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.
They found a sensing mechanism linked to the gut microbiome that explains how fenchol reduces neurotoxicity in the Alzheimer’s brain.
Scientists have found that short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)– metabolites produced by beneficial gut bacteria and the primary source of nutrition for cells in your colon—contribute to brain health.
The abundance of SCFAs is often reduced in older people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
Gut-derived SCFAs that travel through the blood to the brain can bind to and activate free fatty acid receptor 2 (FFAR2), a cell signaling molecule expressed on brain cells called neurons.
In the study, the team examined how interactions between the gut microbiome and the brain might influence brain health and age-related cognitive decline.
The researchers first showed that inhibiting the FFAR2 receptor contributes to the abnormal buildup of the Aβ protein causing neurotoxicity linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Then, they performed large-scale screening of more than 144,000 natural compounds to find potential candidates that could mimic the same beneficial effect of microbiota-produced SCFAs in activating FFAR2 signaling.
The team narrowed 15 leading compound candidates to the most potent one. Fenchol, a plant-derived compound that gives basil its aromatic scent, was best at binding to the FFAR’s active site to stimulate its signaling.
Further experiments demonstrated that fenchol strongly reduced excess Aβ accumulation.
The team found that the compound decreased senescent neuronal cells, also known as “zombie” cells, commonly found in brains with Alzheimer’s disease pathology.
Zombie cells stop replicating and die a slow death. Meanwhile, they build up in diseased and aging organs, create a damaging inflammatory environment, and send stress or death signals to neighboring healthy cells, which eventually also change into harmful zombie cells or die.
Fenchol reduces the formation of half-dead zombie neuronal cells and also increases the degradation of (nonfunctioning) Aβ, so that amyloid protein is cleared from the brain much faster.
The team warns that before people start throwing lots of extra basil in their spaghetti sauce or anything else they eat to help stave off dementia, more research is needed—including in humans.
If you care about dementia, please read studies about this kind of work could increase your dementia risk by more than 50% and findings of your body clock strongly linked to your risk of Alzheimer’s disease risk.
The study is published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. One author of the study is Hariom Yadav, Ph.D.
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