A gallon of milk doesn’t last forever. It’ll eventually go bad, and then there’s no milk left unless someone has brought home more.
The same can be said for a protein in the brain called nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyl transferase 2 (NMNAT2), which is key in preserving cognitive function, according to researchers from Indiana University’s department of psychological and brain sciences.
Its cells only last about two hours, said Hui-Chen Lu, professor and Linda and Jack Gill Chair of Neuroscience, so something has to tell the brain to make it again. Because NMNAT2 is what scientists call neuroprotective, it can protect the brain from degenerating or delay the onset of regenerating.
“We know (NMNAT2 is) a very key protein to keeping the brain healthy,” Lu said. And having that knowledge, the next step in research is to find out how to maintain that protein, “because NMNAT2 is not there forever.”
In a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports by Lu with assistant research scientist Yousuf Ali and graduate student Gillian Bradley, compounds were screened for their effects on levels of the protein in mice. One compound that was shown to have the ability to increase production of NMNAT2 was caffeine.
“The concentration is not terribly high,” Lu said — it’s equal to about five cups of coffee a day.
The finding doesn’t mean, however, that Lu’s lab is suggesting everyone drink more coffee. The results were based on an acute study — it was done a few times over a short time, she said, and they don’t know yet the longer-term impact of caffeine intake.