Neuron degeneration (loss of neuron structure or function) usually result from chronic (prolonged) exposure to chemicals, drugs, pesticides and environmental pollution.
Authors: Summaya Lucman and Tehreem Fatima
It is still so difficult to predict neuron degeneration in diseases because it usually occurs in old age in animals as well as humans. Even advanced technology and recent trials of biomarkers (a naturally occurring molecule, gene, or characteristic by which a particular pathological or physiological process or disease can be identified) for the diagnosis of neuronal degeneration are still controversial.
Protective herbal plants aid in the prevention or delay the occurrence of neuron degeneration diseases due to their anti-oxidant (protection from free radicals) properties.
Neuron degenerative diseases are more common in developed and developing countries but are prevalent all over the world. The rate of incidence of such diseases is expected to increase to approximately 131.5 million in 2050.
The causes of neuron degeneration include exposure to heavy metals like aluminum, drugs, toxic agents like carbon monoxide and even genetic susceptibility (an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease based on a person’s genetic makeup).
Scientists are also investigating possible causes of secondary (occurring following traumatic injuries and acute and chronic diseases) neuron degeneration. The factors contributing to disease may be environmental factors, biochemical malfunctions, metabolic and vascular parameters, type II diabetes mellitus and immune disorders.
The mechanism of neuron degeneration is still unclear despite one accepted theory about neurotoxicity of Acetylcholinesterase, a toxin causing destruction of nerve tissue, which may play a role in neuronal degeneration observed in Alzheimer’s disease.
Furthermore, evidence supports the contribution of cholinesterase inhibitor (ChI) towards improvement in cognitive function (mental processes) and the reduced risk of falls in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
The occurrence of neurodegenerative disease varies between individuals and there is no predictive measurable variable except trials of biomarkers. Moreover, integrins (transmembrane proteins involved in the adhesion of cells to each other and to their substrate) play an important role of pathophysiology (the functional changes that accompany a particular syndrome or disease) in many diseases such as epilepsy. Additionally, they are a potential target for the discovery of new drugs for neurological disorders.
Biomarkers for Diagnosis:
Different biomarkers are being studied in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegeneration diseases. These biomarkers include cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Aβ (Amyloid beta denotes peptides of 36–43 amino acids that are crucially involved in Alzheimer’s disease), tau(a protein), phosphorylated tau and other neuronal proteins, PET(Positron-emission tomography, a nuclear medicine functional imaging technique that is used to observe metabolic processes in the body to diagnose a disease) tracers for Aβ, tau and glucose uptake, and MR measures of brain diseases. Phenylalanine hydroxylase which is an enzyme present in human body can also be used as biomarker in some sort of brain disease. However, these methods are stilled considered controversial.
Protective Effects of Medicinal Plants on Neuronal Degeneration Diseases:
Many herbal plants such as Black Cumin or Kalonji (Nigella sativa), Drumstick Tree (Moringa olifeira) and many plant-derived natural products such as opioids alkaloids and galantamine which have been recently studied for prevention, delay and treatment of neurodegenerative disease (progressive loss of neuron in brain). The ethanol extract of herbaceous plant family members such as Alchemilla vulgaris-common name for which is Lady’s Mantle and Filipendula ulmaria-common name for which is Meadowsweet are used as acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, a chemical that prevents break down of acetylcholine ( primary neurotransmitter which transmits cell-to-cell messages), for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (brain disease) in humans.
There are many medically important plants which are recently studied for their positive effects on neuron protection like Ashwagandha (a shrub grow in India and used in medicine), Baccopa monnieri (nonaromatic herb used in homeopathy) and Ginkgo biloba (a popular supplement and herbal medicine which is used for memory problems) which gave chemical extraction such as flavonoids (chemical that helps in cell signaling), lycopene (helps in prevention of Alzheimer’s disease), sesamol (significant as an anticancer) and Trehalose ( a sugar which may be useful in prevention Huntington’s disease) which have antioxidants (molecules that help to protect the cells from free radicals) and antiapoptotic (help in cancer prevention) effects. The extractions of these plants are used in traditional homeopathic medicine which have significant role on prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.
The phytochemicals, plant extractions, will give way to treat neurodegenerative diseases in future due to their antioxidative and antiapoptotic effects. This seems like a very interesting topic for further researches for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases by plants because there are many brain diseases which do not have any proper treatment. If we discover such medicinal plants which can cure these diseases, it would be a great success in medical history.