Folinic Acid Shows Promise as Parkinson’s Treatment in Fruit Fly Study

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

Share this article:

Share article via email

Folinic acid, an adjuvant medication for bowel cancer, also may become a potential treatment for early-onset Parkinson’s disease, according to results of a preclinical study that used fruit flies.

The study “Folinic Acid Is Neuroprotective In A Fly Model Of Parkinson’s Disease Associated With pink1 Mutations” was published in the online journal Science Matters.

Mutations in the PINK1 gene are known to lead to the accumulation of impaired mitochondria (the cell’s energy powerhouse) and the death of dopaminergic neurons (the main source of dopamine in the central nervous system), a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease and the cause of movement anomalies seen in these patients.

“Parkinson’s disease is a disabling disorder for which no cure is yet available; further, after dopaminergic neurons are lost, only a few palliative treatment options for Parkinson’s symptoms are available,” Luís Miguel Martins, the study’s senior author, said in a press release. “Therefore, treatments that either prevent or delay the onset of the disease at an early stage are needed.”

Folinic acid is an approved adjuvant drug for the treatment of cancer and can be administered orally, as a dietary supplement, or intravenously. Folinic acid is similar to folic acid, but is more active and can penetrate the human brain.

Using fruit flies expressing the mutated gene, researchers found that feeding these animals with a diet rich in folinic acid during the early stages of fly adulthood rescued mitochondrial activity and protected the dopaminergic neurons.

“A [folinic acid]-enriched diet might therefore delay or prevent the neuronal loss in patients with PINK1 mutations and may ameliorate other diseases linked to mitochondrial defects,” the researchers wrote.

While considerable efforts are being made toward the development of drugs that can delay the pathology of Parkinson’s disease, the use of folinic acid has several advantages over new drugs, including proven safety.

“[T]he drug safety risk is low, and drug development for repurposing folinic acid as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease would be faster than for a novel drug,” Martins said. “With this in mind, it seems worthwhile to further test the supplementation of folinic acid in clinical trials with human participants as a potential preventative or palliative therapeutic for [Parkinson’s disease] and to expand the repertoire of treatment options,” he said.