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Scientists Spot Brain's Self-Defense 'Switch'

A protein activates natural antioxidant toxin-fighters

THURSDAY, Oct. 19, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers say they've spotted a protein that switches on the brain's natural antioxidant defense system.

This system protects brain cells from toxic free radicals, a waste product of cell metabolism linked to aging and a number of health problems, including heart attack, stroke and cancer, says a team from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Experts believe that some brain diseases involve a failure of its antioxidant defense system. In research with rodents, the Boston group found that the regulatory protein PGC-1a switches on the brain's antioxidant defense system when free radicals begin to accumulate.

In another experiment, the scientists found that turning on PGC-1a to high levels in laboratory-cultured human and mouse brain cells protected the cells against nerve toxins.

The findings are published in the Oct. 20 issue of the journal Cell.

The study authors said their findings suggest that it may be possible to develop drugs to boost the antioxidant system in the brain in order to treat diseases such as Parkinson's, Huntington's, and Alzheimer's.

They are currently testing compounds to find which ones may spur PGC-1a expression in brain cells.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has information about antioxidants and cancer prevention.

SOURCE: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, Oct. 19, 2006
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