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Parkinson’s: Vitamin B3 has a positive effect on damaged nerve cells

Tübingen researchers: A form of Vitamin B3 boosts energy in nerve cells and helps prevent them from dying off. This could lead to new treatments.

Nerve cells (purple) grown from stem cells derived from Parkinson’s patients. The nuclei are colored blue and the mitochondria green. Copyright: Deleidi, 2018

Unsteady hands, stiff muscles and slow movements – all these are typi-cal symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Some 220,000 people in Germany are affected by the disease, which becomes more likely to occur as peo-ple get older. It is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain and re-mains incurable. A team of researchers headed by Dr. Dr. Michela Deleidi at the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research and the Univer-sity of Tübingen is now reporting that nicotinamide riboside – a form of vitamin B3 – may offer a possible treatment. Initial results from the la-boratory are promising: “This substance stimulates the energy metabo-lism in the affected nerve cells and protects them from dying off,” Deleidi explains. The researchers have published their study in the latest edition of the journal Cell Reports.

Damaged power houses lead to cell death

It is still not clear precisely what leads to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Scientists do know that nerve cells in the substantia nigra region of the brain die off. Recently it has been recognized that the mito-chondria in these cells are damaged. Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy, making them the mini-power house of the cell. When they go wrong, the cell may die. “In our study we aimed to investigate whether damaged mitochondria were merely a side effect or whether they cause Parkinson's disease,” says Deleidi.

To find out, the researchers took skin cell samples from patients with Parkinson’s disease. They converted skin cells into stem cells and then into nerve cells. The cells had a defect of what’s known as the GBA gene – the most frequent risk gene for Parkinson’s. Just like the ‘real’ nerve cells, their mitochondria – and consequently their energy production – were impaired.

Overhaul of cell power houses

The researchers then sought to stimulate the formation of new mito-chondria. The coenzyme NAD plays and important role in mitochondrial function and energy production. The researchers ‘fed’ the cells with nico-tinamide riboside, a form of vitamin B3 and a precursor of the coenzyme. This led to a rise in the concentration of NAD in the cells. The result: “The nerve cells’ energy budget improved considerably. New mitochondria formed and energy production rose.”

In order to observe the effect of the vitamin in a living organism, the re-searchers, working with international colleagues, took the further step of investigating flies with a GBA gene defect. As with Parkinson’s patients, the flies’ dopamine-rich nerve cells died off, and as they aged, the flies had increasing difficulties in walking and climbing. Deleidi and her col-leagues divided the flies into two groups. One group received feed en-riched with the vitamin, the other did not. “The substance had a positive effect here as well. In the flies that were treated, far fewer nerve cells died off.” Furthermore, they retained their mobility longer.

Possible treatment

“Our results suggest that the loss of mitochondria does indeed play a significant role in the genesis of Parkinson’s disease,” Deleidi summa-rizes. “Administering nicotinamide riboside may be a new starting-point for treatment.” Further studies are needed to determine whether the vit-amin can be of real help for patients with Parkinson's disease. The re-searchers are planning to test the effects of nicotinamide riboside on patients. Other studies have shown that it is well tolerated by healthy test subjects and have potential beneficial effects on cardiovascular health,” Deleidi says.


Schöndorf DC et al. (2018): “The NAD+ precursor, nicotinamide riboside, rescues mitochondrial defects and neuronal loss in iPSC and fly models of Parkinson’s disease“, Cell Reports, 23(10)
DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.05.009


Dr. Dr. Michela Deleidi
Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)

University of Tübingen

Otfried-Müller Str 23
72076 Tübingen

Phone +49 7071 9254200

Fax: +49 7071 9254074

Email: Michela.Deleidispam prevention@dzne.de

Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
Public Relations Department
Dr. Karl Guido Rijkhoek

Antje Karbe
Press Officer
Phone +49 7071 29-76789
Fax +49 7071 29-5566
antje.karbespam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de