Photo of a bowl and root of turmeric
A little-studied compound in turmeric could hold the key to treating brain injury and neurological disorders

Turmeric compound helps regenerate brain cells

13 October, 2014

Natural Heath News — A bioactive compound found in turmeric could help repair brain damage, according to new data.

Research published today in the  journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy shows that a compound called aromatic (ar)-turmerone promotes stem cell proliferation and differentiation in the brain, meaning it could be a future treatment for neurological disorders, such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study looked at the effects of ar-turmerone on naturally occuring neutral stem cells (NSC), which are stem cells found within adult brains. NSC turn into neurons, and play an important role in self-repair and recovery of brain function in neurodegenerative diseases.

Previous studies of ar-turmerone have shown that the compound can block activation of microglia cells. When activated, these cells cause neuroinflammation, which is associated with different neurological disorders. However, ar-turmerone’s impact on the brain’s capacity to self-repair was unknown.

Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Jülich, Germany, studied the effects of ar-turmerone on NSC proliferation and differentiation both in vitro and in vivo.

Stem cell growth increased by 80%

Rat fetal NSC were cultured and grown in six different concentrations of ar-turmerone over a 72 hour period. At certain concentrations, ar-turmerone was shown to increase NSC proliferation by up to 80%, without causing cell death. The cell differentiation process also accelerated in ar-turmerone-treated cells when compared to untreated control cells.

To test the effects of ar-turmerone on NSC in vivo, the researchers injected the animals with ar-turmerone. Using brain scans, they found that the subventricular zone (SVZ) was wider, and the hippocampus expanded, in the brains of rats injected with ar-turmerone than in control animals.

The SVZ and hippocampus are the two sites in adult mammalian brains where neurogenesis, the growth of neurons, is known to occur.

Lead author of the study, Adele Rueger, said: “While several substances have been described to promote stem cell proliferation in the brain, fewer drugs additionally promote the differentiation of stem cells into neurons, which constitutes a major goal in regenerative medicine. Our findings on aromatic turmerone take us one step closer to achieving this goal.”

Ar-turmerone is the lesser-studied of two major bioactive compounds found in turmeric. The other compound is curcumin, which is well known for its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.