Scientists have discovered that a component found in grapefruit and other citrus fruits may successfully block the development of kidney cysts, according to a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

Researchers from the Royal Holloway University, St. George’s, the University of London and Kingston University London in the UK, say that the component, called naringenin, could be used to develop new drugs for the treatment of polycystic kidney disease.

It is an inherited disorder that causes cysts to develop in the kidneys. The disease can lead to loss of kidney function, high blood pressure leading to heart attack and stroke, as well as brain aneurysms. Onset is most common between the ages of 30 and 60.

According to the American Kidney Fund, more than 600,000 people in the US suffer from polycystic kidney disease – the most common form of the disease being autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD).

For their research, the team conducted an experiment on a single-celled amoeba containing a protein called PKD2. This is the protein responsible for the development of polycystic kidney disease.

It was discovered that when naringenin came into contact with the PKD2 protein, it became regulated, blocking the formation of cysts.

Citrus fruit in a pileShare on Pinterest
Researchers say that a component found in citrus fruits, called naringenin, may successfully block the development of polycystic kidney disease.

To see how this discovery could apply to treatments of polycystic kidney disease, the scientists triggered the formation of cysts in a mammalian kidney cell-line.

It was found that the formation of cysts were blocked by adding naringenin. Furthermore, when levels of the PKD2 protein were reduced in the kidney cells, the block in cyst formation was also reduced. This confirmed that the effect was connected.

“This discovery provides an important step forward in understanding how polycystic kidney disease may be controlled,” says Professor Robin Williams of the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway University.

Dr. Mark Carew, of the School of Pharmacy and Chemistry at Kingston University, says that further research is underway in order to understand exactly how naringenin works at a molecular level.

“This work will entail looking at the function of the PKD2 protein as a cell growth regulator,” he adds.

Prof. Williams notes that their new approach to testing components, such as naringenin, may reduce reliance on animal testing in the development of new therapies:

In the study, we have demonstrated how effective the amoeba Dictyostelium is in the discovery of new treatments and their targets.

Having previously applied the same method of testing in our work into epilepsy and bipolar treatments, it is clear that this new approach could help us reduce reliance on animal testing and provide major improvements.”

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that citrus fruits may reduce the risk of stroke in women.