According to a study, funded in part by the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, in the June 14 issue of The Journal of Biological Chemistry, the compound Mannitol, not only improved PD-like symptoms in fruit flies, but also reduced harmful levels of Alpha-Synuclein (the hallmark of PD) in the brains of fruit flies and mice, that were genetically-engineered to express the PD human gene.

Researchers took interest in Mannitol since, when Mannitol is given as an injection, it has two unique properties. First, it can cross the blood brain barrier (meaning the drug can reach the brain). Second, it is able to stop some proteins in the body from clumping together, which is interesting in light of the fact that clumps of the protein Alpha-Synuclein are a well-known sign of Parkinson’s disease.

Scientists suggest that Mannitol appears to function as a chemical chaperone, meaning that the sweetener stabilizes proteins like Alpha Synuclein and prevents them from inappropriately clumping together.

Knowing these properties, Daniel Segal, Ph.D., and Ehud Gazit, Ph.D., at Tel Aviv University, in Israel, wondered whether Mannitol might be helpful for Parkinson’s disease. They examined Mannitol in the lab and in fruit flies and mice. They studied whether Mannitol can improve the motor symptoms of fruit flies with PD-like symptoms, and whether it can change the levels of Alpha-Synuclein in all three experiments.

  • In the test tube, Mannitol prevented Alpha-Synuclein protein from clumping into the Lewy bodies that form in the brains of people with PD.
  • In the fruit fly model of PD, Mannitol restored the flies’ normal movements, for example their ability to climb up test tubes.
  • In the same flies, Mannitol reduced Alpha-Synuclein clumps by 70%.
  • In the PD mice model, Mannitol injections reduced Alpha-Synuclein clumps in several areas of the brain involved with classic PD and protected dopamine-producing neurons, the brain cells affected in PD.

This study demonstrates the potential ability of Mannitol to prevent Alpha-Synuclein clumping that takes place in PD. The results indicate that Mannitol should be studied for its potential to treat PD