There is growing evidence that exposure to a group of chemicals known as type-2 alkenes -- which are found in the smoke inhaled from cigarettes, the exhaust of automobiles and even in French fries - can increase the chances of developing Alzheimer's disease and other neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease.
"The thought process and memory deficits associated with Alzheimer's disease appear to be due to the very early loss of function of nerve endings in the brain," said Richard M. LoPachin, Ph.D., a neurochemist and director of research in the Department of Anesthesiology at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
"Two years ago, we published a series of peer-review papers describing how type-2 alkenes (such as acrylamide and acrolein) damage nerve endings in the brains of animals and, since then, interest in the scientific community has grown steadily," said Dr. LoPachin. "For example, just in the last six months there were more than a half dozen articles published in neuroscience journals that demonstrate an excess of acrolein and other type-2 alkenes in the brains of Alzheimer's patients."
The Perfect Neurological Storm
According to Dr. LoPachin, this excess means that these highly toxic chemicals are also being generated within nerve endings during the disease process that presumably initiates Alzheimer's dementia. Dr. LoPachin believes that this internal production of the type-2 alkenes, along with external exposure to these chemicals (smoking, diet and other environmental factors), causes a perfect neurological storm - a doubly powerful type-2 alkene attack on brain nerve endings from outside the body and from with-in.
"This dual intoxication of nerve endings led us to conclude that daily environmental exposure to neurotoxic type-2 alkenes could increase the incidence of Alzheimer's disease," he said.
Can Curry, Wine and Apple Skins Offer a Cure?
As evidence for the role of type-2 alkenes in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease has grown, Dr. LoPachin and his colleague, Dr. Terrence Gavin, in the Department of Chemistry at Iona College, have discovered a possible antidote that is derived from chemical compounds found in curry spice (curcumin), wine (resveratrol) and apple skins (phloretin).
Their research, recently reported in a Journal of Neurochemistry article ( Title: β-Dicarbonyl Enolates: A New Class of Neuroprotectants), showed that a compound called 2-ACP completely protected nerve cells in culture from acrolein-induced damage by latching onto this type-2 alkene and neutralizing its toxic effects. 2-ACP could, therefore, be a treatment for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Drs. LoPachin and Gavin believe that 2-ACP treatment would be safe and effective in humans, because it is derived from non-toxic natural products that already have clinically demonstrated neuroprotective properties.
Dr. LoPachin says that although the 2-ACP studies are quite advanced in the world of molecular biology, they nonetheless will need to be confirmed in animal studies.
Montefiore Medical Center