Specialists of the National Research Center “Kurchatov Institute” have studied the ability of the protein lactoferrin to protect the brain from the development of neurodegenerative changes caused by neurotoxins. They selected a scheme for using the protein, in which it exhibits pronounced neuroprotective properties. The effectiveness of lactoferrin injections has been confirmed in animal experiments. In the future, the results obtained may be relevant for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Parkinson’s disease. The work was published in the journal Biology.
During natural aging, starting from about 50 years of age, every 10 years the human brain is deprived of an average of 4% of neurons. But there are a number of diseases (in particular, Parkinson’s disease) that enhance this process.
“Neurodegenerative diseases can develop for a long time without external clinical manifestations. This is due to the compensatory abilities of the brain, which are based on neuronal plasticity (the ability of the brain to form new neural connections instead of lost ones and thereby maintain its functions). Thus, the body manages to restrain the manifestation of symptoms until the number of dead neurons reaches a threshold level, ”explained Irina Zaraiskaya, head of the Resource Center for Neurocognitive Research of the Kurchatov complex of NBIKS-nature-like technologies.
Scientists wondered if this pathological process could be counteracted by further activating the mechanisms of neuroplasticity. Lactoferrin was chosen to stimulate the compensatory abilities of the brain. The idea to use it was connected with the fact that the brain demonstrates the greatest properties of plasticity at the earliest stages of development – in the first months of a person’s life. Namely, during this period, the concentration of lactoferrin in the body is maximum: it comes in large quantities with breast milk. In addition, this protein is known for its ability to influence a wide range of neuronal processes.
During the experiment, experts artificially triggered the death of certain types of neurons in the brain of mice using a neurotoxin and assessed the dynamics of recovery of both behavior and the brain tissue itself. The results showed that, in comparison with the control group, mice that had previously received lactoferrin injections had an accelerated recovery of exploratory behavior and functional activity of neurons in the black substantia of the brain. The scientists noted that such results were obtained due to the optimally selected conditions for the introduction of the protein. The key factor influencing the effectiveness of recovery was the length of the period between the injection of the protector protein and the toxin.
Scientists are currently working to study the molecular mechanisms underlying the protective properties of lactoferrin. In the future, this study will help create more advanced drugs for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.