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Longevity Briefs: Metformin effectively treats Parkinson’s disease caused by hyperactive mitochondria

Posted on 27 October 2020

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of a novel research, medicine, or technology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: In the UK, there are currently 145,000 people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease. This means that it causes malfunctions in the brain that get worse over time. It is characterised by tremors or shaking, muscle stiffness and slowness of movement. The disease is triggered by a death of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, however, the causes of this is still largely unknown.

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A team of researchers primarily based at Princeton University in the US, recently found a link between dysfunctional branch chain amino acid (BCAA) metabolism and Parkinson’s disease.

What did the researchers do: To investigate this link further the team knocked down the BCAT gene, a gene that is vital for BCAA metabolism, in C.elegans, a species of worm that is a well-used model organism for biological investigations. Knocking down the gene resulted in dysfunctional BCAA metabolism.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The team found that the knocking down of BCAT, and resultant dysfunctional BCAA metabolism, induces mitochondrial hyperactivity in the brain cells, which leads to neurotoxicity and nerve cell death. This pathway caused the C.elegans to present Parkinson’s-like symptoms.

The researchers did not stop there, they then went on to treat the C.elegans with metformin, a drug which is usually used to treat type 2 diabetes but has more recently been shown to have anti-ageing effects. Results revealed that treating the C.elegans with metformin reduced mitochondrial hyperactivity and returned brain function back to normal levels.

Not only did this study uncover that mitochondrial hyperactivity may be an early trigger for Parkinson’s progression, but it also revealed that metformin was an effective treatment to reduce this.

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