A bioactive compound found in turmeric could help repair brain damage, according to new data. Research published today in the journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy shows that a compound called aromatic (ar)-turmerone promotes stem cell proliferation and differentiation in the brain, meaning it could be a future treatment for neurological disorders, such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study looked at the effects of ar-turmerone on naturally occuring neutral stem cells (NSC), which are stem cells found within adult brains. NSC turn into neurons, and play an important role in self-repair and recovery of brain function in neurodegenerative diseases.
Previous studies of ar-turmerone have shown that the compound can block activation of microglia cells. When activated, these cells cause neuroinflammation, which is associated with different neurological disorders. However, ar-turmerone’s impact on the brain’s capacity to self-repair was unknown.
Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Jülich, Germany, studied the effects of ar-turmerone on NSC proliferation and differentiation both in vitro and in vivo.
Stem cell growth increased by 80%
Rat fetal NSC were cultured and grown in six different concentrations of ar-turmerone over a 72 hour period. At certain concentrations, ar-turmerone was shown to increase NSC proliferation by up to 80%, without causing cell death. The cell differentiation process also accelerated in ar-turmerone-treated cells when compared to untreated control cells.
To test the effects of ar-turmerone on NSC in vivo, the researchers injected the animals with ar-turmerone. Using brain scans, they found that the subventricular zone (SVZ) was wider, and the hippocampus expanded, in the brains of rats injected with ar-turmerone than in control animals.
The SVZ and hippocampus are the two sites in adult mammalian brains where neurogenesis, the growth of neurons, is known to occur.
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Lead author of the study, Adele Rueger, said: “While several substances have been described to promote stem cell proliferation in the brain, fewer drugs additionally promote the differentiation of stem cells into neurons, which constitutes a major goal in regenerative medicine. Our findings on aromatic turmerone take us one step closer to achieving this goal.”
Ar-turmerone is the lesser-studied of two major bioactive compounds found in turmeric. The other compound is curcumin, which is well known for its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.