Grape seed contains natural antioxidants called polyphenols that may help ward off Alzheimer’s Disease, according to researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City who write about their findings in a paper about to be published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Previous studies have suggested that the small soluble clusters of A-beta protein, called “oligomers”, found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, are what poison brain cells and cause the memory loss associated with the disease. They also have the same effect in mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s.

Previous research has also shown that grape seed polyphenolic extract (GSPE) stops A-beta oligomers being formed in “test tubes”, and it also reduces cognitive impairment and the characteristic brain degeneration seen in mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

For this study, Dr Giulio Maria Pasinetti, The Saunder Family Professor in Neurology, and Professor of Psychiatry and Geriatrics and Adult Development at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and colleagues, teamed up with researchers from the University of Minnesota, led by Dr Karen Hsiao Ashe.

For five months, theyy gave GSPE to transgenic mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. After this time, they found the mice’s brains had significantly reduced levels of A-beta*56, a specific form of A-beta oligomer previously implicated in the promotion of Alzheimer’s disease memory loss. But levels of other A-beta compounds remained unchanged.

Thus they concluded that GSPE was a safe, low-cost intervention that can selectively lower levels of memory-impairing A-beta oligomer in live subjects, and “strongly suggest that GSPE should be further tested as a potential prevention and/or therapy for AD [Alzheimer’s Disease]”.

Pasinetti told the press that:

“Since naturally occurring polyphenols are also generally commercially available as nutritional supplements and have negligible adverse events even after prolonged periods of treatment, this new finding holds significant promise as a preventive method or treatment, and is being tested in translational studies in Alzheimer’s disease patients.”

Red wine also contains a lot of grape-derived polyphenols.

However, Pasinetti and colleagues emphasized that before we can use these polyphenols, we first have to identify a biomarker of disease that would identify who might be at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

“It will be critical to identify subjects who are at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, so that we can initiate treatments very early and possibly even in asymptomatic patients,” explained Pasinetti.

But he also said patients who are already in the first stages of the disease may also benefit from early intervention with such a treatment.

Funds from the National Institutes of Health helped pay for the study and Pasinetti is a named inventor of a pending patent application related to the study of Alzheimer’s disease, and would benefit from a share of the proceeds should a license be granted.

“Grape Seed Polyphenolic Extract Specifically Decreases A[beta]*56 in the Brains of Tg2576 Mice.”
Peng Liu, Lisa J. Kemper, Jun Wang, Kathleen R. Zahs, Karen H. Ashe, Giulio M. Pasinetti
JAD 2011, Volume 26, Number 4, IN PRESS

Additional source: The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine (via EurekAlert!).

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD