Tea compound aids dying brain cells

From Washington, D.C., at the Fourth International Scientific Symposium on Tea and Human Health

A constituent of green tea can revive moribund brain cells, Israeli researchers report. The team experimented with animal neurons that had been chemically poisoned to model the death of dopamine-producing cells in Parkinson’s disease.

In a test-tube study, low doses of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—the primary antioxidant in green tea—revived sick and dying neurons, reports Silvia Mandel of the Technion Faculty of Medicine in Haifa. Withered cells became fatter and more robust, she says, and the cells’ shrunken appendages regrew and began reaching out to contact neighboring cells.

In a second study, mice got oral doses of EGCG for 2 weeks. Treatment started only after the animals had already lost about half their dopamine-making brain cells. The daily doses—a few milligrams of EGCG per kilogram of body weight—were comparable to what people might obtain from 3 to 4 cups of tea, Mandel says. Although preliminary data suggest that dopamine production rebounded in the treated animals, she notes that it’s too early to say whether EGCG permanently rescued the cells or just bought them some extra time.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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