A gas famous for its rotten egg pong could help prevent the spread of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study.
Typically characterized as poisonous, corrosive and smelling of rotten eggs, hydrogen sulfide’s reputation may soon get a facelift.
In experiments involving mice, researchers have shown the foul-smelling gas may help protect aging brain cells against Alzheimer’s disease.
The discovery of the biochemical reactions that make this possible could lead to the development of new drugs to combat neurodegenerative disease.
Scientists working at the University of Exeter and Johns Hopkins University in the US made the discovery.
“The human body naturally creates small amounts of hydrogen sulfide to help regulate functions across the body from cell metabolism to dilating blood vessels,” said Professor Solomon Snyder, of Johns Hopkins University.
“However, unlike conventional neurotransmitters, gases can’t be stored in vesicles.
“Thus, gases act through very different mechanisms to rapidly facilitate cellular messaging.
“In the case of hydrogen sulfide, this entails the modification of target proteins by a process called chemical sulfhydration, which modulates their activity.”
Previous studies have shown that sulfhydration levels in the brain decrease with age, a trend that is amplified in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Matt Whiteman, from the University of Exeter, said: “Up until recently, researchers lacked the pharmacological tools to mimic how the body slowly makes tiny quantities of hydrogen sulfide inside cells.
“The compound used in this study does just that and shows by correcting brain levels of hydrogen sulfide, we could successfully reverse some aspects of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The results showed some of the behaviours exhibited by people suffering from Alzheimer’s could be reversed by introducing hydrogen sulfide.
Researchers found in the absence of hydrogen sulfide, enzymes in the brain interact with a protein called Tau leading to nerve cells dying off.
This leads to the deterioration and eventual loss of cognition, memory and motor function that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Understanding the cascade of events is important to designing therapies that can block this interaction, like natural hydrogen sulfide is able to do,” added Daniel Giovinazzo, from Johns Hopkins University.
– The study is published in the journal The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.