Lowering toxic by-products in fruit flies gives new insight into Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s

Research published today, Monday 25 April, in PNAS, could offer new insights into the causes of neurodegeneration seen in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Leicester, looked at ways to lower levels of toxic by-products in the nervous system of fruit flies. The fruit flies had been genetically engineered to have build-ups of amyloid – the sticky protein that cause damage in brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. This caused the flies to show signs of neurodegeneration, including problems crawling, climbing, and shorter lifespans.

The results indicated that lowering the levels of toxic metabolites – by-products of biological processes – in the nervous system of these flies may have a neuroprotective effect.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'Studies in fruit flies can help us to better understand some of the underlying biological changes that happen in Alzheimer’s disease. However, they only represent a very simplistic version of the condition – behavioural changes seen in fruit flies, such as slow crawling and climbing, are very different from the symptoms people with Alzheimer’s disease experience.

'It’s estimated that 200,000 people will develop dementia each year, but there have been no new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease since 2002. This may provide us with an avenue for further study, but we cannot say at this stage what relevance this work will have for people living with dementia.'