Alzheimer’s-Fighting Chinese Moss Compound Synthesized in Lab

Club moss (Huperzia serrata). (Image:  Keisotyo via  flickr  CC BY-SA 3.0)
Club moss (Huperzia serrata). (Image: Keisotyo via flickr CC BY-SA 3.0)

An enzyme inhibitor found in a species of moss used in traditional Chinese medicine has been synthesized efficiently in the lab, and could be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, as well as block the effects of certain chemical warfare agents.

Known as huperzine A, the alkaloid occurs naturally in a club moss, Huperzia serrata, which has a long history in China for treating a number of conditions, including pain and inflammation.

said chemist Seth Herzon at Yale University, in a press release.

Research has shown that huperzine A aids learning and memory function by protecting the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is produced by the cholinergic system in the brain. Damage to this system may be associated with memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.

Comparison of a normal aged brain (left) and the brain of a person with Alzheimer's (right). (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Comparison of a normal aged brain (left) and the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s (right). (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The American scientists have developed an eight-step process to produce the enzyme inhibitor that provides a yield of up to 40 percent and is cost-effective. Herzon said:

Other enzyme inhibitors are available on prescription in the United States to treat Alzheimer’s, but huperzine A binds better and is more easily absorbed and retained by the body, according to Herzon.

As well as being used to treat neurodegenerative diseases, huperzine A can protect the brain against the deadly effects of some chemical warfare agents, such as sarin and VX.

“This route represents a critical, enabling advance toward detailed evaluation of huperzine A in clinical settings,” the researchers wrote in the study abstract.

The findings were published online in the journal Chemical Science.

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