More than 55 million people in the world live with dementia, with Alzheimer’s responsible for the majority of cases. There is still no cure for the disease, but a new study involving worms could provide some clues for delaying its progression.
A research team from the University of Delaware has been studying worms with amyloid beta build-up, and they discovered that vitamin B12 seems to help ease their symptoms. The findings were published in the journal Cell Reports.
While humans are more complex, the physiology of the tiny worm C. elegans provides a simpler model for studying Alzheimer’s.
Jessica Tanis, team member and professor at University of Delaware, explains, “As humans, we have immense genetic diversity and such complex diets that it makes it really hard to decipher how one dietary factor is affecting the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s. That’s where the worms are amazing. The worms we use all have exactly the same genetic background, they react to amyloid beta like humans do, and we can exactly control what they eat, so we can really get down to the molecular mechanisms at work.”
When this type of worm has amyloid beta build-up, it can no longer move. In a past study involving Alzheimer’s onset and progression, one of Tanis’ graduate students noticed that in one petri dish, the worms still had some movement. Further investigation turned up that the the strain of E. coli in that petri dish had elevated levels of vitamin B12. That’s what led the lab to investigate the link between this vitamin and Alzheimer’s.
Tanis says, “When we gave vitamin B12 to the worms that were vitamin B12 deficient, paralysis occurred much more slowly, which immediately told us that B12 was beneficial. The worms with B12 also had higher energy levels and lower oxidative stress in their cells.”
Through their research, the team determined that B12 needs an enzyme called methionine synthase to work. Without it, the same benefits are not observed. They also found that it was only beneficial with worms that were deficient in B12. If they already had sufficient levels, it didn’t make any difference. Additionally, the vitamin did not impact amyloid beta levels.
The researchers hope that their findings could help us better understand how diet could play a role in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Tanis says, “Right now, there is no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. There are certain factors that you cannot change – you cannot change the fact that you age, and you cannot change a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease. But one thing you can control is what you eat. If people could change their diet to affect the onset of disease, that would be fantastic. That’s something my lab is excited to continue to explore.”
There is also hope that these findings could also be protective against other neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and Parkinson’s.Whizzco