Recent studies have linked caffeine consumption to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, and a new University of Illinois study may be able to explain how this happens.
"We have discovered a novel signal that activates the brain-based inflammation associated with neurodegenerative diseases, and caffeine appears to block its activity. This discovery may eventually lead to drugs that could reverse or inhibit mild cognitive impairment," said Gregory Freund, a professor in the U of I's College of Medicine and a member of the U of I's Division of Nutritional Sciences.
Freund's team examined the effects of caffeine on memory formation in two groups of mice—one group given caffeine, the other receiving none. The two groups were then exposed to hypoxia, simulating what happens in the brain during an interruption of breathing or blood flow, and then allowed to recover.
The caffeine-treated mice recovered their ability to form a new memory 33 percent faster than the non-caffeine-treated mice. In fact, caffeine had the same anti-inflammatory effect as blocking IL-1 signaling. IL-1 is a critical player in the inflammation associated with many neurodegenerative diseases, he said.
"It's not surprising that the insult to the brain that the mice experienced would cause learning memory to be impaired. But how does that occur?" he wondered.
The scientists noted that the hypoxic episode triggered the release of adenosine by brain cells.
"Your cells are little powerhouses, and they run on a fuel called ATP that's made up of molecules of adenosine. When there's damage to a cell, adenosine is released," he said.
Just as gasoline leaking out of a tank poses a danger to everything around it, adenosine leaking out of a cell poses a danger to its environment, he noted.
The extracellular adenosine activates the enzyme caspase-1, which triggers production of the cytokine IL-1β, a critical player in inflammation, he said.
"But caffeine blocks all the activity of adenosine and inhibits caspase-1 and the inflammation that comes with it, limiting damage to the brain and protecting it from further injury," he added.
Caffeine's ability to block adenosine receptors has been linked to cognitive improvement in certain neurodegenerative diseases and as a protectant against Alzheimer's disease, he said.
"We feel that our foot is in the door now, and this research may lead to a way to reverse early cognitive impairment in the brain. We already have drugs that target certain adenosine receptors. Our work now is to determine which receptor is the most important and use a specific antagonist to that receptor," he said.
The study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience and can be viewed online at http://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/40/13945.full.
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences: http://aces.illinois.edu/
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
A veteran EMT and ambulance driver in Boston, Ed McCarthy is in a great position to understand his hometown spatially. But he’s also a history geek, and while constantly driving around the city’s neighborhoods, he loves recognizing the streets, buildings and other locales from the history books he so often buries his nose in.
The extinction of the biggest shark known to science may have triggered whales to grow to their current hefty sizes, a study suggests.
The UK's chief scientist says the oceans face a serious and growing risk from man-made carbon emissions.
Modifying neurons to flash as electrical impulses pass along them lets researchers grow light-up brains in a dish and eavesdrop on their chatter
They lived on a remote dot of land in the middle of the Pacific, 2,300 miles (3,700 km) west of South America and 1,100 miles (1,770 km) from the closest island, erecting huge stone figures that still stare enigmatically from the hillsides.
In a bleak, treeless landscape high in the southern Peruvian Andes, bands of intrepid Ice Age people hunkered down in rudimentary dwellings and withstood frigid weather, thin air and other hardships.
A viral video shows people lauding fare billed as an "organic" fast-food option that was actually McDonald's. It wasn't just pranksters playing tricks on these poor folks, but maybe their brains, too.
Deinocheirus mirificus, or unusual horrible hand, had long, clawed forearms, a sail on its back and a duck-like bill
Open letter says claims made for brain games are not based on sound evidence and that playing them may have opposite effect
A significant Bronze Age pottery find is made during an archaeological dig on the east side of Lewis, in Scotland.