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A number of strategies using the nutritional approach are emerging for the protection of the brain from damage caused by metabolic toxins, age, or disease. Neural dysfunction and metabolic imbalances underlie many diseases, and the inclusion of metabolic modifiers may provide an alternative and early intervention approach that may prevent further damage.
Various models have been developed to study the impact of metabolism on brain function. These have also proven useful in expanding our understanding of neurodegeneration processes. For example, the metabolic compromise induced by inhibitors such as 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NPA), rotenone, and 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP(+)) can cause neurodegeneration in animal models and these models are thought to simulate the processes that may lead to diseases such as Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases. These inhibitors of metabolism are thought to selectively kill neurons by inhibiting various mitochondrial enzymes. However, the eventual cell death is attributed to oxidative stress damage of selectively vulnerable cells, especially highly differentiated neurons.
Various studies indicate that the neurotoxicity resulting from these types of metabolic compromise is related to mitochondrial dysfunction and may be ameliorated by metabolic modifiers such as l-carnitine (L-C), creatine, and coenzyme Q10, as well as by antioxidants such as lipoic acid, vitamin E, and resveratrol. Mitochondrial function and cellular metabolism are also affected by the dietary intake of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which may regulate membrane composition and influence cellular processes, especially the inflammatory pathways.
Cellular metabolic function may also be ameliorated by caloric restriction diets. L-C is a naturally occurring quaternary ammonium compound that is a vital cofactor for the mitochondrial entry and oxidation of fatty acids. Any factors affecting L-C levels may also affect ATP levels. This endogenous compound, L-C, together with its acetyl ester, acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC), also participates in the control of the mitochondrial acyl-CoA/CoA ratio, peroxisomal oxidation of fatty acids, and production of ketone bodies. A deficiency of carnitine is known to have major deleterious effects on the CNS. We have examined L-C and its acetylated derivative, ALC, as potential neuroprotective compounds using various known metabolic inhibitors, as well as against drugs of abuse such as methamphetamine.