(Fierce Biotech) – Scientists from the University of Leicester and the University of Maryland have reversed Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s symptoms by inhibiting an enzyme in fruit fly models, highlighting a new avenue to treat neurodegenerative diseases.

Maryland’s Robert Schwarcz and Leicester’s Flaviano Giorgini studied the amino acid tryptophan, which degrades in the body into several metabolites that have different effects on the nervous system. These include 3-hydroxykynurenine (3-HK), which can damage the nervous system, and kynurenic acid (KYNA), which can prevent nerve degeneration. The relative abundance of these two compounds in the brain could be critical in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, the University of Maryland said in a statement.

3-HK and KYNA  exist in a balance between “good” and “bad” metabolites in the body. In neurodegenerative disease, the balance shifts toward the “bad,” Giorgini said in a statement. The researchers shifted the balance back toward “good” by giving genetically modified fruit flies a chemical that selectively inhibits the enzyme TDO, which controls the relationship between 3-HK and KYNA. This increased levels of the “protective” KYNA, and improved movement and lengthened life span in fruit flies genetically modified to model neurodegenerative disease.

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