The Ciesla lab in the News: Natural product discovery for combatting Parkinson’s Disease

Urmila Maitra

Common neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s are complex, and current therapies provide only temporary relief from selected symptoms. Furthermore, existing treatments do not target the underlying biological pathways of the disease, and there is currently no way to halt its progression. By the time a Parkinson’s patient exhibits typical symptoms, such as tremors and involuntary shakes, it is likely that they have been losing brain function for years. Preventative treatments that provide neuroprotective effects hold much promise as a future strategy to protect individuals who are susceptible to Parkinson’s, and it is in this area that the Ciesla lab is making headway.

Dr. Lukasz Ciesla and his assistant researcher, Dr. Urmila Maitra, recently found that GardeninA, a flavonoid compound naturally found in Gardenia resinifera Roth—a shrub common in India and locally known as Dikamali (or Brilliant Gardenia in English)—is able to delay the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms in fruit flies. In this work, supported by the Alabama Life Research Institute and the American Pharmacological Society, the researchers induced Parkinson’s in fruit flies using Paraquat, a highly toxic herbicide, and found that GardeninA protected against the loss of neurons associated with the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Flavonoids such as GardeninA are found in many fruits and vegetables, and GardeninA is structurally similar to flavonoids found in the peel of citrus fruits.

Lukasz Ciesla

The next steps are to test if GardeninA provides the same antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that protect fruit fly neurons in a mammalian model. Excitingly, Ciesla and his collaborators have recently secured funding from the National Institute of Health to do exactly that in a mouse model as well as to delve further into the exact mechanisms through which these compounds work at the cellular level. Given that Parkinson’s is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disease in humans, the importance of this work cannot be overstated. We look forward to the results of this research, the findings of which could be tremendously beneficial to the human condition.