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Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that causes cognitive and motor impairments. The motor complications of Parkinson’s disease occur due to the damage and death of cells in a brain region called the substantia nigra, leading to insufficient dopamine production. A new report shows how an antioxidant compound found in sesame seeds, called sesaminol, can protect cells from oxidative damage and prevent the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Oxidative stress is a main driver of cell damage and aging and is the result of normal cellular metabolism. The body produces a number of antioxidant compounds to combat this damage. The production of some of these compounds is increased by a protein called Nrf2, which can be activated by our environment.

First, the authors exposed isolated brain cells to an oxidative stressor and measured the activity of Nrf2 and production of antioxidant compounds. Next, they fed sesaminol to mice that develop a disorder similar to Parkinson’s disease for 29 days. They measured the animals' motor, digestive, and brain function compared to normal mice and Parkinson’s disease mice fed a normal diet.

The authors found that sesaminol enhanced Nrf2 activity and increased production of antioxidant enzymes in response to oxidative stress. The authors also report that, compared to both groups of the mice fed a normal diet, the Parkinson’s disease mice that were fed small amounts of sesaminol exhibited normal motor and digestive function. They also had less alpha-synuclein in their brains, a misfolded protein known to accumulate during the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The authors concluded that sesaminol may be a suitable strategy for preventing Parkinson’s disease, noting that very small amounts of the compound can be effective in protecting cells.

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