Antibiotic now tackles Parkinson’s

From San Diego, at the Society for Neuroscience meeting

Once of interest primarily to microbiologists, the antibiotic minocycline recently has drawn the interest of neuroscientists. Last year, for example, researchers reported that the antibiotic delayed death in mice that develop a neurological condition resembling Huntington’s disease (SN: 8/19/00, p. 8). A trial of the drug in people with the illness is about to begin. Now, several groups find that minocycline seems to protect the class of brain cells that die in Parkinson’s disease, another neurodegenerative disorder.

“I think minocycline has some remarkable neuroprotective effects,” says Steven M. Paul of Lilly Research Laboratories in Indianapolis, a leader of one of those groups.

Paul’s team injected mice with a toxic substance known to destroy nerve cells making the brain chemical dopamine, the same cells affected in Parkinson’s disease. Many fewer of the cells die if the mice ingest minocycline, even if they get the antibiotic 4 hours after the last toxic injection, the researchers found.

They detail these results in the Dec. 4 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Paul doesn’t believe that long-term administration of minocycline should be considered for people with Parkinson’s disease. He notes that the drug’s germ-killing properties are unneeded for treating the brain disorder. It also doesn’t readily cross from the bloodstream into the brain, where it’s needed. Once the antibiotic’s neuroprotective mechanism is understood, Paul and his colleagues intend to develop minocycline mimics that reach the brain better and don’t kill germs.

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