Afzelin, a plant compound, shows neuroprotective potential in study
Better motor skills, lesser oxidative stress seen in treated disease model rats
A plant compound called afzelin lessened motor abnormalities in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease, a study reports.
Afzelin, found in certain plants like some water lilies and trees, has been shown to have a variety of pharmacological properties, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, that might benefit people with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
The study, “Neuroprotective Potential of Afzelin: A Novel Approach for Alleviating Catalepsy and Modulating Bcl-2 Expression in Parkinson’s Disease Therapy,” was published in the Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal.
“This study highlights the potential of focusing on natural compounds including Afzelin as possible neuroprotective agents,” its researchers wrote.
Effects of treatment with plant compound similar to levodopa at highest dose
Parkinson’s is characterized by the progressive death of nerve cells in the brain responsible for making the chemical messenger dopamine. While the exact causes of Parkinson’s are incompletely understood, both inflammation and oxidative stress are thought to play a role in driving the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons.
Researchers in Saudi Arabia tested the effects of afzelin in a rat model of Parkinson’s, with the disease induced by administering a dopamine-depleting chemical called resperine.
Three groups of these rats were treated with afzelin at one of three doses (5, 10, or 20 mg/kg), and a fourth with levodopa, a mainstay Parkinson’s therapy that works to boost dopamine levels in the brain. Another group of resperine-injected rats was left untreated, and healthy animals made up a final control group.
A battery of standardized tests were given to measure the rats’ mobility and behavior, including the rotarod test (where the animals have to balance on a rotating pole) and the open field test (which tracks how the animals behave when placed in a new, open environment).
Across all these tests, diseased rats showed marked abnormalities compared to rats without Parkinson’s, but in rats treated with the plant compound, the extent of these abnormalities was significantly reduced. Results indicated a dose-dependent effect — that is, higher doses of afzelin led to more pronounced and beneficial changes in behavior, with the highest tested dose showing effects similar to levodopa in most tests.
“The administration of Afzelin was found to be effective in ameliorating motor and kinesia [movement-related] deficits,” the researchers wrote.
Treated animals also showed improvements on the forced swim test, which is commonly used as a way to measure depression-like behaviors in rat and mouse models.
Biochemical analyses of the rats’ brains showed that afzelin significantly eased the disease-induced drop in dopamine levels and those of related molecules. Higher doses of the plant compound also increased the activity of Bcl-2, a protein that’s known to promote cell survival.
“Afzelin treatment enhanced Bcl-2 expression in the striatum, a brain region affected in [Parkinson’s],” the researchers wrote, noting that this “may contribute to Afzelin’s protective effects.”
Higher levels of certain antioxidant proteins and lower markers of oxidative stress — the type of cell damage that antioxidants defend against — also were seen with afzelin treatment. These findings “highlight the potential of afzelin as a protective agent in mitigating oxidative damage in the brain,” the researchers noted.
While stressing that additional work is needed to assess whether afzelin might benefit people with Parkinson’s, the study’s outcome “positions Afzelin as a potential neuroprotective agent” that may be useful in the disease’s treatment, the scientists concluded.