Pathologist Keqiang Ye has made a series of discoveries recently, arising from his investigations of substances that can mimic the growth factor BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).
BDNF is a protein produced by the brain that pushes neurons to withstand stress and make new connections. Some neuroscientists have described BDNF as “Miracle Gro for brain cells.”
â€œBDNF has been studied extensively for its ability to protect neurons vulnerable to degeneration in several diseases, such as ALS, Parkinsonâ€™s and Alzheimerâ€™s disease,â€ Ye says. â€œThe trouble with BDNF is one of delivery. Itâ€™s a protein, so it canâ€™t cross the blood-brain barrier and degrades quickly.â€
Working with Ye, postdoctoral fellow Sung-Wuk Jang identified a compound called 7,8-dihydroxyflavone that can duplicate BDNFâ€™s effects on neurons and can protect them against damage in animal models of seizure, stroke and Parkinsonâ€™s disease. The compoundâ€™s selective effects suggest that it could be the founder of a new class of brain-protecting drugs. The results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.