Could Coffee Protect Neurons in Parkinson’s Disease?

Could Coffee Protect Neurons in Parkinson’s Disease?

A recently published paper reveals interesting connections between coffee and Parkinson’s disease (PD).  Dr. M. Maral Mouradian, Interim Director of the APDA Center for Advanced Research at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, is the lead author of the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which demonstrates how two components of coffee, caffeine and Eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide (EHT), may work together to prevent biochemical changes linked to development of PD. Dr. Mouradian is also a long-standing member of APDA’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Research has suggested that coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of PD, although the reasons for that have not been understood. Caffeine was always considered a prime suspect in conferring the decreased risk, but there are numerous potential compounds in coffee to explore. In previous work, Dr. Mouradian’s lab identified EHT as one of those possible candidates. EHT is related to serotonin, a neurotransmitter or brain chemical that plays a role in many brain functions including mood and cognition. EHT, it turns out, can be purified from the coat of the coffee bean. Dr. Mouradian’s lab already demonstrated that EHT acts to increase the activity of the enzyme PP2A which removes a phosphate group from alpha-synuclein. The phosphate-removal modification reduces the disease-causing abilities of alpha-synuclein.

The most recent study, funded in part by APDA, focused on whether EHT and caffeine can act together to enhance neuroprotection. Two types of mice were used in this work, both modified in different ways to induce biochemical changes similar to those seen in PD.  The mice were fed various diets containing small amounts of EHT and caffeine. Diets with either EHT or caffeine alone showed minimal to no effect, but mice fed both EHT and caffeine demonstrated more neuronal preservation and improved performance on various behavioral tasks.

“Our findings suggest that caffeine does not need to be consumed in large amounts for it to protect the brain in PD so long as it is taken in combination with EHT. This can minimize the negative health consequences of consuming too much caffeine” Dr. Mouradian said.

She added “It is important for us to find out the right amount of EHT and the optimal ratio between EHT and caffeine needed for this protective effect.”

More research needs to be done in order to determine whether these findings can be translated into treatment recommendations for humans, but the results are very intriguing. APDA is proud to have been part of this exciting and highly relevant work.