A new study published last week has suggested that a component in everyday aspirin may be effective in helping treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

Aspirin is already approved and commonly used in the treatment of heart attacks, strokes, fever, back ache, headache, and general pain relief.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was carried out by researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute and John Hopkins University, USA. The team found that the plant hormone salicylic acid, a main component of aspirin, binds itself to an enzyme in the body, GAPDH (Glyceraldehyde 3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase), which can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

Salicylic acid found in aspirin may be useful in the treatment of major neurological diseases.

Salicylic acid found in aspirin may be useful in the treatment of major neurological diseases.

GAPDH normally plays an important role in producing energy in the body, but when there is an excess of free radicals, the enzyme becomes modified and enters the cells in the body, enhancing protein turnover in the cells and causing them to die. It is this cell death that contributes to neurodegenerative diseases.

By binding to the enzyme and stopping it from entering the cell and causing cell death, salicylic acid could be an effective treatment against such diseases. There is already an existing treatment for Parkinson’s, deprenyl, which also works by blocking GAPDH from entering into the cells.

The team also looked at a natural derivative of salicylic acid from the Chinese medical herb licorice and a lab-synthesised derivative and observed them bind to GAPDH more tightly than salicylic acid, making them even more effective in blocking GAPDH from moving into the cell.

In addition to the results from this study, earlier this year the team also found that salicylic acid could be effective in targeting a protein in the body, HMGB1, which causes inflammation and is associated with several diseases, including arthritis, lupus, sepsis, atherosclerosis and certain cancers, with low levels of salicylic acid blocking the protein inflammatory actions; again the licorice and lab-derived versions of salicylic acids appeared to be more effective than salicylic acid itself, as much as 40 to 70 times more potent.

Senior author Daniel Klessig, commenting on the results said, “A better understanding of how salicylic acid and its derivatives regulate the activities of GAPDH and HMGB1, coupled with the discovery of much more potent synthetic and natural derivatives of salicylic acid, provide great promise for the development of new and better salicylic acid-based treatments of a wide variety of prevalent, devastating diseases.” – AFP Relaxnews