Curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, is able to prevent the clumping of a protein associated with Parkinson’s disease, according to research at Michigan State University.
“Our research shows that curcumin can rescue proteins from aggregation, the first steps of many debilitating diseases,” said Dr. Lisa Lapidus, MSU associate professor of physics and astronomy. “More specifically, curcumin binds strongly to alpha-synuclein and prevents aggregation at body temperatures.”
Proteins are chains of amino acids that are responsible for doing most of the work in cells. Although scientists understand their structure, it is still unclear how they are built—a process known as folding. Through the use of lasers, Lapidus’ team studied the folding process by correlating the speed at which the protein would fold with its tendency to clump or bind with other proteins.
When curcumin binds to the protein alpha-synuclein, it not only stops clumping, but it also boosts the protein’s folding or reconfiguration rate. As the protein folds at a faster pace, it moves out of the dangerously slow speed zone which would cause it to clump with other proteins.
Doctors won’t be prescribing curcumin pills any time soon, though, Lapidus said.
“Curcumin’s usefulness as an actual drug may be pretty limited since it doesn’t go into the brain easily where this misfolding is taking place,” she said. “But this kind of study showcases the technique of measuring reconfiguration and opens the door for developing drug treatments.”
The study, led by Basir Ahmad, an MSU postdoctoral researcher, is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Source: Michigan State University