Researchers at Michigan State University in the US found that curcumin is very effective at preventing clumping of a slow-wriggling alpha-synuclein protein which is known as the first step of diseases such as Parkinson's which affects over four million people worldwide.
"Our research shows that curcumin can rescue proteins from aggregation, the first steps of many debilitating diseases," said Lisa Lapidus, a MSU associate professor who co-authored the study with researcher Basir Ahmad. "More specifically, curcumin binds strongly to alpha-synuclein and prevents aggregation at body temperatures," she said.
According to researchers, proteins are chains of amino acids that do most of the work in cells. Though scientists understand protein structure, they don't know how they are built -- a process known as folding.
In the new study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Lapidus and her team have shed light on the process by correlating the speed at which protein folds with its tendency to clump or bind with other proteins.
When they attached curcumin to alpha-synuclein, they found that it not only stopped clumping, but it also raised the protein's folding or reconfiguration rate.
By bumping up the speed, curcumin moves the protein out of a dangerous speed zone allowing it to avoid clumping with other proteins, the researchers said.
Finding a compound that can fix a protein when it first begins to misfold can lead scientists to identify drugs that can treat certain diseases, Lapidus said.
"Curcumin's usefulness as an actual drug may be pretty limited since it doesn't go into the brain easily where this misfolding is taking place," she said.
"But this kind of study showcases the technique of measuring reconfiguration and opens the door for developing drug treatments."
Parkinson's disease is a disorder of the central nervous system which results from the death of dopamine-generating cells in the certain brain area. Currently, there is no cure for the condition.